Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tom DeLay and James Madison

No, I do not mean to put DeLay on a par with Madison. Not by a very long shot. But I needed a catchy title. This is about DeLay's current legal troubles, and why DeLay's real "crime" isn't what a Texas prosecutor claims it is.

Sure, Tom DeLay is a tough political cookie. Sure, he plays hardball, like everyone else in Washington -- and elsewhere -- who seeks to control the levers of power. Sure, in his zeal to wield power he might have broken some Texas law about political contributions (from CNN):

The indictment [handed down today] accused DeLay of a conspiracy to "knowingly make a political contribution" in violation of Texas law outlawing corporate contributions. It alleged that DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee accepted $155,000 from companies, including Sears Roebuck, and placed the money in an account.

The PAC then wrote a $190,000 check to an arm of the Republican National Committee and provided the committee a document with the names of Texas State House candidates and the amounts they were supposed to receive in donations.

Yes, a law is a law, and if DeLay broke it, he should be punished for breaking it. But campaign-finance laws are inherently repressive of free speech, so part of me wants DeLay to get off. And I'm hoping that McCain-Feingold and all of its ilk at the State level will be eviscerated in the 2005-6 term of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court has granted certiorari in Vermont Republican State Committee v. Sorrell, described by SCOTUSblog as a "challenge[] to expenditure limits imposed by Vermont campaign finance laws." (For more, go here.)

But I will not be sorry if the campaign-finance scandal ends DeLay's political career. I have no sympathy for a senior Republican (or any other politican) who can say what DeLay said about funding disaster relief. This from The Washington Times:
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.
Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.
"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.
Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."
Balderdash! Hogwash! Bilge!

It's time for Republicans to get back to basics: spending cuts to match tax cuts, then more tax cuts and more spending cuts, for as long as it takes to get Congress back to its enumerated powers under Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States.

And don't be fooled by the "general welfare clause" in the first sentence of Section 8. Here's why:

In his last act before leaving [the presidency], Madison vetoed a bill for "internal improvements," including roads, bridges, and canals:

"Having considered the bill...I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States...The legislative powers vested in Congress are the...Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers..." [1]

Madison rejected the view of Congress that the General Welfare Clause justified the bill, stating:

"Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms 'common defense and general welfare' embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust."
(Source: Wikipedia)
Related posts:

The Erosion of the Constitutional Contract (03/23/04)
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers (06/05/04)
An Agenda for the Supreme Court (06/29/05)
What Is the "Living Constitution"? (08/23/05)