At the beginning of the 112th Congress, as part of an effort to inject more transparency into the legislative process, the House adopted a rule requiring that each bill be accompanied by a Constitutional Authority Statement. The purpose of the rule was to expose the cavalier attitude of those members who desire to legislate ‘just because they can.’
Well, after a year of legislating under this rule, it appears that we are in serious need of accountability measures to provide some clarity and specificity to the authority statement. Otherwise, the rule will be regarded as yet another “transparency” gimmick of Congress.
Republican congressional staffers combed through almost 3800 bills and joint resolutions that have been introduced this year, in an effort to gauge the clarity and specificity of the Constitutional Authority Statements. For the most part, the results are pretty pathetic. Here are some of their key findings:
- Overall, 945 bills contained authority statements which do not reference a specific power granted by the Constitution. Many of these merely cited “Article 1” or “Article 1 Section 1” “Article 1 Section 8.” In other words, they just cited the fact that Congress has the power to legislate, but failed to divulge which constitutional power or specific clause is supporting their legislation.
- There were 732 bills which only referenced the commerce clause, 660 which only referenced the general welfare clause, and 321 which mentioned the necessary and proper clause without reference to a previous Constitutional clause to which the necessary and proper clause might apply.
- In total, there were 2658 Constitutional Authority Statements that were either questionable or vague. That represents roughly 69% of all bills and resolutions introduced in the 1st Session of the 112th Congress.
- While more of the vague citations are attributable to Democrat bill sponsors, many Republicans were lax in offering meaningful authority statements. Almost as many Republicans used the inexplicit commerce clause as Democrats.
After the first year of the Constitutional Authority rule, it is clear that it has failed to dissuade members from proposing frivolous legislation. At a minimum, every authority statement should detail the specific clause and power that authorizes the legislation. Moreover, the statement should be accompanied by a brief explanation describing the reason why there is a constitutional mandate for that particular bill. Without further improvements, this rule is just a waste of ink and paper.