The Constitution is the law of the land.
That is a phrase often spoken by people in the press or our elected officials as they press the flesh in their attempt to be re-elected. But once they are voted into office, how much do they really uphold it?
Section 8 of the first Article in the U.S. Constitution outlines the responsibilities of Congress. If it is not listed in that section, Congress does not have the responsibility or authority to pass laws about it. Unless you have read that section within the last week, please click on it and read it now. I will wait right here until you are finished.
Done? Good. Did you read anything in there about education, welfare, or the environment? What about Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid? Did you notice that none of these programs are listed in the Constitution as responsibilities of the federal government? Each time people are sworn into the House or Senate, they swear or affirm to defend and protect the Constitution. But each law they pass without a constitutional mandate is another blow to our Constitution as the law of the land. Each time they pass a law without the authority to do so, they prove that their oaths to support the Constitution are just so much legislative hot air.
Here is another case in point. Jim Abrams, a writer for the Associated Press, wrote an article titled “Senate approves pay increase for itself” on Oct. 23. In this article, he points out that Congress will receive a pay increase during 2004, rising from $154,700 to $158,000. In a 60-34 vote on Thursday, the Senate rejected a proposal that would exempt it from a cost of living adjustment (COLA) targeted to all other federal workers and military personnel. In the previous month, the House rejected a similar proposal to exempt itself from this COLA.
As much as I dislike the other political ideas and actions of Democrat Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, I admire him for standing up against this COLA. He pointed out that in the last five years, the Senate has seen increases totaling $21,000–quite a nice sum. Sen. Feingold even went as far as to suggest that anything above his starting salary of almost six years ago should be returned to the Treasury. In this situation, I admire Sen. Feingold’s stand much more than that of Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. “I think that our representatives of government deserve a pay raise consistent with the work that we’ve produced,” he said. Do you, Senator? Then draft specific legislation that will give you this well-deserved pay raise. Do not continue this back-door method of getting more money.
It must be pretty nice to be able to approve your own pay raise. However, there is a little snag in this rosy plan: the Constitution. The 27th Amendment, ratified in 1992, says, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” This means that any raises or cutbacks to members of the House or Senate do not take effect until after the national November elections for Representatives. Since 2003 is not such a year, this COLA should not take effect until at least Wednesday, November 3, 2004. But this pay increase is scheduled to take effect with the first paycheck written by the U.S. Treasury in January 2004, because the majority of the people serving in the House and Senate are more interested in making a few thousand dollars more each year than in honoring their oaths to “support and defend the Constitution.” Nor is the Legislative Branch willing to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the document it pretends to revere.
“This is not a pay raise. This is an increase that’s required by law,” said Constitution-ignoring Republican Senator Ted Stevens, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman from Alaska. He obviously wants the money more than he cares to honor the Constitution. Since this law automatically increases the pay of the Senate and House, it cannot legally take effect until November 2004, but Sen. Stevens has already turned a blind eye to the Constitutional requirement by ignoring the very nature of this pay increase. A rose is still a rose, even if you call it a shovel, Senator. And this cost of living increase will raise your pay; therefore, it is a pay raise. To quote Conan O’Brien, “Duh!”
Democrat Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware voted against the Feingold measure. He called this a “no-win situation under any circumstances” since the people would not accept any dollar amount for a pay increase for the Legislature. Well, if the Legislature can point out the many wonderful work it has completed in the past year, the people will stand behind the increase. But since the nation has been economically rocky for the last few years, just how happy do you think the public will be to view these legislators increasing their paychecks at the expense of families just trying to find work or make ends meet?
I am not all that concerned about the amount of money involved. When you consider just how much power a Senator or Representative has, it is amazing just how little he or she is paid. The leaders of large business corporations, who have much less power to affect our daily lives, are paid many times more than anyone in government. Even the President is only paid $400,000 a year, and he is the leader of the greatest nation on Earth! My primary concern is over the all-too-common disregard for Constitutional authority. The Constitution gives the government the power and permission to act, and when members of the Legislature vote to line their pockets and no one stands up for the 27th Amendment, I realize just how forsworn our elected leaders are.
Each time the Legislature passes another law dealing with welfare, education, or the environment, it is collectively thumbing its nose at the Constitution. So we should not be surprised when in a few months, the Legislature will start cashing larger paychecks regardless of Constitutional amendments against it. Senators and Representatives have shown that the Constitution usually stands in their way, and they do not care if the people see them do this. They know we are too involved with “The Next Joe Millionaire” to care about the unconstitutional acts of our elected leaders. Shame on them, and shame on us.