The Obama Administration is Looking for Ways to Bend the Constitution … Shocker!

During what normally is a slow news cycle, the New York Times published a front-page story on Christmas Eve, the importance of which may be overlooked. The story itself, “Facing New Politics, Obama Is Set to Shuffle Staff,” focuses on anticipation and speculation over upcoming organizational changes in the Obama administration. Although this is certainly important news in and of itself, what’s more important is the implied motive for the shuffling: skirting Constitutional limitations.

Let’s begin our exegesis with the story’s title: “Facing New Politics.” The midterm elections created adverse conditions for Obama’s policy goals. With a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a slim Democrat majority in the Senate, President Obama is preparing “for the realities of divided government.” For the second half of his first term, Congress won’t be a rubber stamp. Even if Democrats can bully legislation through the Senate, passage in the House will be made quite impossible. It’s a reality that previous presidents have dealt with too. Learning from his predecessors, Obama apparently intends to do what was most recently done by George W. Bush: simply ignore Congress and find a way to do what you want anyway.

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The Real Meaning of the S.510 Chamber Dispute

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.

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Federal Legislation Threatens Massachusetts Agriculture

Massachusetts has a long, proud history of farming. Drive into the small towns West of Metro Boston and it’s hard not to notice an orchard, dairy, or signs for one of our many local farmer’s markets. A few minute’s drive from my home will bring you to Bolton – a right to farm community. A few minute’s drive in the other direction, and you’re in Lancaster, where a pick-your-own orchard gave me my first job in Massachusetts, when I moved here in 2001. One more town over from Lancaster and you’re in Sterling, where the Davis family, farming for over 100 years, turned a disaster on their family-owned dairy into Davis Farmland – a local attraction dedicated to educating children and conservation of endangered livestock. All of this, and more, is threatened by the provisions in S 510, The FDA Food Modernization Act.

The Food Modernization Act was primarily written to force American food producers and exporters into compliance with international treaties that the United States has entered regarding the import and export of agricultural products. To the extent that the bill will regulate the exportation and importation of food in international commerce, it is constitutional. However, there are serious constitutional and economic issues with the bill in how it deals with small, local farms.

One of the act’s main initiatives is to make all food produced in the United States traceable. The motives behind this initiative seem honorable on their face. Essentially, the act says food must be traceable in order to protect public health.

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Bringing the Tenth Amendment to Massachusetts

In the last year, since December 2009, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has experienced a political facelift. Once considered the textbook example of a one-party state that would play the games of big-government politics without fail, Massachusetts has once again become a battleground for liberty. Groups of citizens, once believed to be a silent, defeated minority have rocked the status quo establishments of both major parties and put every politician in the state on notice that liberty will not be surrendered quietly to increasingly centralized authority. These citizens have rediscovered the prescient wisdom of the United States Constitution and find in that document empowerment to retrace the lines that limit our government to its rightful functions.

Some citizen activists came away from the recent election with a sense of defeat, maybe even hopelessness. How could a grassroots movement with so much evidence on its side lose to the same tired rhetoric of party politics? Remember that a midterm election is just one battle in a war of ideas that will be fought on many other fields. And today, into this war, Massachusetts has introduced a new weapon in its arsenal – a weapon, perhaps, not so much new, but certainly underutilized: The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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