Leave it to Harry Reid to call the Constitution a “hyper-technical” issue and a “fig leaf” for Republicans to hide behind.
Since this a day of the week that ends in “y,” Harry is railing about Republican obstructionism of this bill and that bill, but he seems especially miffed about the blockage of the Violence Against Women Act — where Congress finds the enumerated power to usurp the police powers of the states to pick and choose which crime victims take precedent is another matter entirely.
On his website, Reid notes both the House and the Senate have passed versions of the reauthorization of the VAWA but the House Republicans refused to take the bills to conference.
“Their excuse — a hyper-technical budget issue called a blue slip — isn’t much of a fig leaf to hide their blatant obstruction,” Reid states. “The truth is Republicans are looking for any excuse to stall or kill this worthy legislation. And American women aren’t fooled.”
The blue slip to which Harry refers is merely the House GOP’s way of throwing a penalty flag on Harry’s Senate version of the bill because it includes a provision to pay for the bill by adding a $30 fee on immigrant visas.
But Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution’s Origination Clause says, “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives …” So, the Senate version violates the Constitution.
In Federalist Paper No. 58, James Madison explained that this provision was to assure the power to tax resides solely with the representative closest to the people, those representatives who are apportioned by population, not by state.
“The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”
Michael Franc, writing at National Review Online, notes the VAWA is not the only bill Reid is pushing while circumventing the Origination Clause. There is also the Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012, which basically legislates the Buffett Rule.
“Why let a little thing like the Constitution stand in the way of making sure a red-meat, eat-the-rich proposal like this gets maximum media exposure during an election year?” Franc asks.
As is my custom with most things constitutional, I turned to my handy copy of Seth Lipsky’s “The Citizens Constitution: An Annotated Guide.”
He notes that the Origination Clause was a major issue at the Constitutional Convention with Elbridge Gerry saying “taxation & representation are strongly associated in the minds of the people, and they will not agree that any but their immediate representatives shall meddle with their purses.”
Sen. Harry “Meddle With Their Purses” Reid will have no truck with such hyper-technical language getting in the way of whatever he wants to do.
But, speaking of fig leaves, Lipsky tells us the courts have largely emasculated the Origination Clause, which was intended to make it more difficult and inconvenient to raise revenue, because, well, it made it too difficult and inconvenient to raise revenue.
Lipsky reports the Supreme Court rejected a suit in 1906 involving financing of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad even though the bill originated in the Senate. The court sniffed that “whatever taxes are imposed are but means to the purposes provided by the act.” And more recent court rulings have allowed Senate bills to stand when the revenue raised is “incidental.”
When a food safety bill ran into a similar Origination Clause roadblock, a New York Times blogger called it an “arcane parliamentary mistake” and bemoaned the fact that “Mr. Reid would have to spend the better part of a week cycling through procedural votes just to get the food safety bill back on the floor.”