August 1, 2013
The Washington Times
Ron DeSantis and Matt Salmon
An amendment forcing Congress to abide by the laws it imposes on others
Few impulses are more widely shared by the American public than contempt for Congress. Though there are no doubt many reasons for this disgust, surely part of the reason stems from instances in which members of Congress seek to live under different rules than the rest of the people. This cannot continue.
In Federalist No. 57, James Madison, describing the House of Representatives, observed that “they can make no law which would not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of society.” Madison touted this because it created between elected officials and the people “that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny.” Indeed, “if this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty.”
As important as this was, the Framers did not explicitly codify this principle in the Constitution. Madison wrote that the general constitutional design, as well as the freedom-loving spirit of the American people, served as a sufficient safeguard against Congress making such legal discriminations.
We think that this principle is now in need of reinforcements of a constitutional dimension. Accordingly, we will be introducing a constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress from making any law that exempts members of Congress from its operation.
Perhaps there is no better example for the need to reinforce Madison’s principle than the recent reports of “discussions” being held among congressional leaders of both parties to create a special exemption from Obamacare for members and their staffs. Because the law imposes costly regulations on health insurance plans, the plans available in the exchanges are likely to be substantially more expensive than the employer-subsidized plans currently enjoyed by members and staffers. Many of the same people who created huge burdens on private employers and individuals by ramming Obamacare through Congress (without reading, much less understanding it) are now protesting that such pernicious effects also extend to them and their staffs. The idea seems to be, “Obamacare for thee, but not for me.” Our amendment seeks to change this mentality.
Obamacare is by no means the only instance of this form of congressional impropriety. Sitting members of Congress habitually lambaste the illicit conduct of those in private industry, yet many have leveraged their public positions to achieve lucrative financial windfalls while in office.
Even when it comes to major pieces of legislation, such as laws involving civil rights and workplace safety, Congress has historically imposed laws on businesses and individuals that are not applicable to its members. In addition, Congress habitually utilizes accounting methods and authorizes programs (such as the National Flood Insurance Program) that, if implemented in the private sector, would constitute malpractice at best and criminal conduct at worst.
It understandably makes Americans’ blood boil to see members of Congress operate under a different set of rules from the people, which is profoundly unfair.
The deleterious effect of this practice is more than a matter of fairness. The practice strikes at the heart of a properly defined constitutional government. Members of Congress are supposed to be citizen representatives of the people, not a ruling class separate and distinct from the people.
The Constitution should not be amended lightly. Happily, our amendment does nothing to change the character of the Constitution, but instead reinforces its underlying principles by making the principle articulated by Madison in the Federalist Papers a part of our fundamental law.
Unlike venerable amendments such as the First and Fourth Amendments, we do not expect this amendment to be a source of continual litigation in the nation’s courts. Rather, we expect the amendment to be similar to provisions banning titles of nobility and guaranteeing a republican form of government. As Madison noted in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, “political truths” codified in a written constitution “acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free Government, and as they become incorporated with the national sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion.” We think that the proposed amendment represents one of these “fundamental maxims of free Government.”
From unconstitutional recess appointments to executive nonenforcement of binding federal statutes to statutes that surpass the powers delegated to Congress, we are experiencing a breakdown in constitutional government. Those who believe that American exceptionalism is rooted in the exceptional nature of our founding principles must commit to re-constitutionalizing the entire machinery of government.
We cannot hope to remedy our current constitutional maladies if members of Congress are permitted to live outside the constitutional system. Our amendment begins this process by striking a blow against the ruling-class mentality that so permeates Washington.
Rep. Ron DeSantis is a Florida Republican. Rep. Matt Salmon is an Arizona Republican.