In case you haven’t heard, S.510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which recently passed the Senate, is probably going to be blocked by members of the House Ways and Means Committee for being unconstitutional. This is not a disappointing outcome, especially since a previous post on this website expressed opposition to this bill on Constitutional grounds. Unfortunately, the House of Representative’s constitutional opposition to the bill is not because S.510 violates Congress’s enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution (which it certainly does). Instead, Ways and Means is blocking the bill because their exclusive power to raise revenue, found in Article I, Section 7, is violated in the Senate bill. And although I agree with this end result, I cannot agree with all the reasoning. A concurring opinion is necessary because this particular legislative ordeal is revealing about the true nature of legislative actions in the United States Congress: Congress is hardly concerned with the Constitutionality of their bills, and hardly aware of the details they’re voting on.
In essence, the House Ways and Means Committee is asserting bicameral pride in blocking S.510 from further action in the House. In other words, they’re offended that the Senate would step on their revenue-raising toes rather than taking action out of any desire to protect the integrity of the Constitution – a desirable result, even if the reasoning is somewhat flawed. However, that the Senate would even pass this bill in the first place and send it to the House with such an obvious Constitutional violation is shameful. I learned in elementary school civics that any bill to raise revenue must first be proposed in the House of Representatives – one of the built-in, federalism-preserving mechanisms placed in the Constitution. That not one out of one-hundred United States Senators recognized this error, or if they did, did not oppose it, is shameful at the very least, and dire at the very worst. It reveals a disconcerting lack of knowledge and respect for the nation’s founding charter. And this discomfiting fact reveals another piece of uneasy evidence: that the Senators, by-and-large, probably didn’t even really know what they were voting for.
Sure, they knew they were voting on an act “to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with respect to the safety of the food supply.” But had all 100 Senators read the proposed legislation? Were they truly versed in the potential effects it would have on their constituent states? Probably not. Actually, most certainly not. Perhaps a few Senators did read the bill in its entirety and tried to digest and understand it, but it’s doubtful that this happened on any large scale, if it happened at all. Instead, the knowledge the Senators had about this bill probably consisted of a summary that was given to them by their aids, who came up with the summary through consultation with lawyers, who worked with the lawyers who wrote the legislation, who worked with the aids of the original sponsors, who network with the aids of all the other Senators, who then compromise and posture to make it look like they’ve accomplished something with all the money they’ve extracted from the American people. And that’s not even considering all the amendments that were added and changed in the bill, summaries of which were provided by aids, who worked with lawyers, and you get the idea. The fact of the matter is that no Senator is actually reading and writing legislation. He or she relies on aids and lawyers who may have their own agendas and who also participate in the bargaining and compromising, and the end result is a bill that nobody really understands and the unintended consequences of which cannot be accurately predicted – hence, the gigantic mess we’re in today.
The Constitution, the limits and responsibility it places on Congress, are hardly paid any regard in the modern legislative process. It is quickly resurrected when one of its provisions can be used to enforce the agenda of politicians, but Congress as a whole no longer recognizes any limits to its lawmaking power. This fact is evidenced in the recent passage of S.510. Because Congress, apparently, does not recognize any incumbent responsibility to follow the Constitution, it is incumbent upon the electorate, the people, the sovereign, to reassert the limits placed on government in the Constitution. It is also incumbent upon us to be aware and educate ourselves about the actions of government. If we don’t, we’ll be stuck with laws that were written by lawyers, summarized by aids, and then forced on the American people by uninformed politicans without any real understanding of their consequences or effects – an unacceptable state of affairs.