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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A query for my readers

According to the Constitution, "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives." Seems pretty clear, no? However, the tax compromise is going to start in the Senate and then move to the House.

Does anyone know what gimmick our nation's solons are using to get around this constitutional requirement?

I know that they routinely ignore this provision. I seem to remember that the stimulus bill in 2009 was tucked inside as an amendment to some other bill, perhaps on mental health, that had already passed the House. I was just wondering what trick they are using this time.

It's so hard, as a teacher of American government, to explain to my students these provisions of the Constitution and then to have to turn right around and tell them how today's politicians circumnavigate these very clear words. We're not talking about whether the Commerce Clause can cover an individual mandate but a clearly written, easily understood element of Article One of the Constitution. Yet it is routinely ignored.


2421Rich said...

This is a good example of the perverse nature of man. Rules are made to be broken and like children we constantly test the boundaries. We all seem to think rules are great for others but that we should personally be exempt if we have a good reason (and we always do).
This is, however, no excuse for the “Lords” of the Senate to violate the constitution they swore to uphold.

David said...

Back when I was in school many many years ago I was told, or given the impression that the House habitual passed some dummy fiscal legislation that the Senate could attach these Bills to. But I could give the the name/number of this Bill. Nor can I give you a good reason why the House would forgo this privilege.

Duffy said...

For one thing they're using judicial fiat to spend money. A year or two ago a judge in Mass. declared that spending for all pupils must be equal across the entire state which basically pooled all the tax money and redistributed it. That ain't what the framers intended. Second, you have the "Al Gore Tax" which is a tax disguised as a fee and intentionally hidden from users. This is becoming increasingly common. I think the Left realizes that their ideas are broadly unpopular and they have to use regulatory bodies and judicial fiat to do what's best for us.

Pat Patterson said...

I agree with David as then the chronology is correct in that the dummy bill originated before the Senate language was tacked on. Another way is to have the bill introduced, as is, directly to the House and skipping the committee process which is part of the rules and can be circumvented. I think the Congress could back date Jesus' birth if the were of a mind to if the Senate told them to what date.

RHarrison said...

The tax deal negotiated between President Obama and the Republicans will actually move as an amendment to H.R. 4853, the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010. This bill was introduced back in March, but hadn't moved since. But the bill had been laid upon the floor of both the House and Senate, so it was a viable bill, and had been introduced into the House first. The Senate will simply amend H.R. 4853 with all new text, and then pass the completely re-written bill.

My understanding is that the original bill must be a tax bill, but other than that it doesn't have to have anything in common with the final version that is passed.

Betsy Newmark said...

Thanks so much for the information, RHarrison. That was just what I wanted to know. I knew there had to be some sort of odious gimmick like that. Now I'll have another example for my students about how the Congress gets around irritating little Constitutional provisions.

Now what I'd like to know is how common this has been in our history. I've never heard of this referred to earlier. Is this a relatively new occurrence? Does anyone know?

Freeven said...

Interesting issue. I found a couple of articles that provide historical background on the Origination Clause: 'A Source of Frequent and Obstinate Altercations': The History and Application of the Origination Clause by Michael Evans and The Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Interpretation and Enforcement [pdf] by James Saturno.

The first observes that:

"Although the Senate has agreed that it may not either pass a revenue bill or add a revenue amendment to a House bill that is not a revenue bill, it long ago rejected the idea that it must wait until receiving a House revenue bill before beginning its own work. Instead, the Senate has taken the position that it can independently consider Senate revenue bills -- that is, senators can introduce revenue measures, the Senate Finance Committee can report them, and the full Senate can consider and amend them on the Senate floor -- if the Senate does not formally pass them and send them to the House."

Examples from the early 1800s are given.

Both articles are well worth reading.

John A said...

Also, erhaps, consider "taxes" that are not called such and are nevervoted on. Also Federal criminal - as in jail time - penalties.

The regulations decided upon by government agencies,

Not too many years ago, the Senate asked for a list of Federal crimes (not fees/whatever, but jail/prison penalties) and got the response "No can comply, there are many thousands and change daily."

Tacitus Voltaire said...

my apologies for being off-topic, betsy

Will The Supreme Court Overturn Health-Care Reform?

"...If you are uninsured but get sick you can walk into an emergency room and receive treatment. The hospitals in turn pass the cost onto their insured customers to the tune of an estimated average of roughly $1,000 per year per family in higher insurance premiums. "There’s no doubt that the decision of some individuals not to insure themselves shifts tens of billions of dollars that they should be bearing onto everyone else,"...

...But as a practical matter, the requirements placed on insurance companies to make coverage more generous and available to everyone are economically dependent on the mandate. You cannot tell companies that they must cover people with serious illnesses, for example, if you are not also guaranteeing them an offsetting group of healthy clients who are more profitable customers. To keep the rest of the bill in place without the mandate would provoke the wrath of the insurance companies’ powerful lobby and set premiums on an upward-spiraling trajectory.

David Aitken said...


They do it all the time, including at the state level. Typically what happens is the sponsor comes up with a bill on Subject X, but very few people like it, so someone else writes a bill, also on Subject X, which completely (or partially) replaces the text of the original. This is usually done in public committee meetings, so it's all legal. Some states, like Colorado, have a single subject rule, so at least the subject stays the same, but others, including the feds, do not. Colorado also has a limit of 5 bills per legislator, so this practice may happen more often here, since bill titles are relatively scarce. Some bill titles are a joke, like "Concerning Transportation", which is a barn door big enough to drive a Mack truck through, but hey, ain't democracy wunnerful!