Just over one month ago, the Senate largely abandoned a plan to ambitiously reform the Senate rules after the GOP agreed to a “handshake deal” which would curb the unprecedented spike in filibusters since the GOP lost control of the Senate. Rather than uphold their side of the bargain, eight Republican senators have now promised to take their obstructionism to unprecedented heights.
Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Ensign (R-NV), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) circulated a letter to their colleagues yesterday threatening to place a hold on any bill which does not comply with five very broad criteria. Given some of these senators’ bizarre views about the Constitution, one of their five criteria stands out as a particularly aggressive assault on the Senate’s ability to function:
Congress Must Not Infringe Upon the Constitutional Rights of the People: Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress a very limited set of enumerated powers. Far too often, Congress infringes upon the rights and liberties reserved for the people and the states provided elsewhere in the Constitution. These overreaches are no more than an afterthought when most bills are debated. To restore the intended balance of powers between the states and the federal government and to preserve the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, all bills must have a clear and obvious basis connected to one of the enumerated powers and must not infringe upon any of the rights guaranteed to the people.
It is, of course, completely banal to say that Congress should not pass unconstitutional laws, but several of the eight signatories to this letter have fairly twisted views of the founding document, believing that the Constitution forbids pretty much everything. Coburn believes that all federal involvement in education — including Pell Grants and federal student loans — violates the Constitution. Paul believes that the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters violates the Constitution (though he walked that comment back). And Sen. Mike “a noun, a verb, and unconstitutional” Lee believes that child labor laws, FEMA, food stamps, the FDA, Medicaid, income assistance for the poor, and even Medicare and Social Security violate the Constitution.
Indeed, it is questionable whether any bill will not be filibustered by one of these radical tenther senators, now that they are promising to obstruct any bill that they personally deem to violate their own idiosyncratic version of the founding document.