Today in his weekly address, President Obama emphasized his commitment to strengthening the Social Security program, while warning Americans of the dangers of privatization. He said “some Republican leaders in Congress” are trying to “gamble your Social Security on Wall Street.” But looking more closely at their ideology, it appears some GOP members don’t even believe Social Security is legal.
In a video promoting one of his pet bills, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) suggests that much of the federal budget violates the Constitution:
For too long, the federal government has acted without constitutional restraint. In doing so, it has created ineffective and costly programs and massive deficits year after year. [...]
American families across the nation are tightening their belts, and it’s time that Congress does the same. As Members of Congress, we need to make sure that we are only spending when we are authorized to do so. That’s why, every year since 1994, I’ve introduced the Enumerated Powers Act—this year its HR 405.
This measure would require that all bills introduced in the United States Congress include a statement setting forth the specific provision of the Constitution which gives the Congress the authority to enact that law.
Had Shadegg bothered to read the Constitution, he would know that his Enumerated Powers Act would do nothing whatsoever to affect the budget deficit. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress broad authority to “to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States” — a provision that leaves budgeting decisions almost entirely to the “judgment of Congress.”
Recently, however, a radical group of “tenther” conservatives have emerged who believe that the Constitution doesn’t actually mean what it says it means. Under the tenther view, Congress may only to advance goals that are specifically mentioned elsewhere in the Constitution. Thus, because the Constitution does not specifically mention “health care,” tenthers say that Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP and the Affordable Care Act are all unconstitutional, and the uninsured can eat cake. Other laws that are suspect under tentherism include Social Security and possibly even the federal highway system and the G.I. Bill.
It’s possible that Shadegg is simply clueless — that he has no idea that the Constitution expressly authorizes every single big-ticket item in the federal budget. In light of tentherism’s growing popularity on the right, however, it is much more likely that Shadegg’s misguided view that constitutional lawyers can balance the budget stems not from a failure to read the Constitution, but from the fact that is he reading way too much quack constitutionalism produced by the tenther movement.