Sen. Lee Launches ‘Constitutional Rehabilitation’ Project: ‘Congress Has Recast Itself as the Back Seat Driver in American Politics’

By Lauretta Brown | February 3, 2016 | 7:05pm EST
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. (AP Photo, File)

( – Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) launched a new initiative in Congress Wednesday, described as a “network of House and Senate conservatives working together on a new agenda of government reform” that “focuses on congressional rehabilitation,” based on the original powers vested in Congress by Article 1 of the Constitution.

“The premise of the Article 1 Project is very simple,” Lee said at an event at the Kirby Center in D.C. “Congressional acquiescence is at the very heart of the problems that we face in Washington.”

Lee said the Constitution’s authors made Congress “the most powerful of the federal government’s three co-equal branches.”

“Congress was designed both as the most powerful and as the most accountable to the people,” he said. “Congress has handed many of its constitutional responsibilities over to the executive branch.”

As a result, “increasingly harmful federal laws are increasingly written by people who never stand for election, by a process as contrary as those provided for in the Constitution and indeed with the explicit purpose of excluding the American people from their government and shielding policymakers from popular accountability.”

“Congress has recast itself as the back seat driver in American politics,” Lee said. “Today the vast majority of federal laws, upwards of 95 percent, are passed not by the House and Senate and signed by the president but instead they’re imposed unilaterally by unelected executive branch bureaucrats.”

“At the same time Congress’ budget process is almost entirely broken down,” he added.

“Most federal spending has been put on autopilot effectively, authorized without a vote. Meanwhile fiscal oversight, deliberation, and reform are a bipartisan charade of sorts.”

Lee said the project would address four key areas – reclaiming Congress’ power of the purse, reforming legislative cliffs, reasserting congressional authority over regulations and regulators, and “curbing executive discretion.”

Constitution under ‘assault’

Lee was joined by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Mia Love (R-Utah), Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), Mark Walker (R-N.C.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), Dave Brat (R-Va.), and John Ratcliffe (R-Texas).

The lawmakers will all work with the new initiative to develop a legislative plan to reassert the constitutional balance of power in the federal government.

Hensarling said he could not recall in his lifetime a time “when I have seen the Constitution under as much assault as it is today.”

“Just in the last few years we’ve seen an American president unilaterally create new law, annul existing law, and even declare the Senate in recess when it was not, so just so he could install political functionaries into top government positions,” he said, referring to recess appointments made by  President Obama and ultimately struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Flake spoke of a need to rein in federal government overregulation.

Citing an example from his home state, Flake said Arizona has experienced dust storms for “decades and centuries – probably millennia.”

Now, however, they were being “regulated as if they were somehow a man-made phenomenon.”

“Every time a dust storm rolls through Maricopa County the cities and the governing entities, the county spends hundreds of thousands of dollars convincing the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] that that was a so called ‘exceptional event’ and not a result of pollution that occurs from man-made sources,” Flake said.

“The EPA knows this but still we have to go through the exercise every time one of these dust storms occurs.”

Love said that she believed one of the things that exclude the American people from the governing process is “these large must-pass bills at the eleventh hour, some of them actually on autopilot.”

“One of the frustrations that I have is all of the other pieces of legislation that’s tacked on to the must-pass bills.”

Love raised her One Subject at a Time Act, introduced in January, which would require each bill passed by Congress to deal with just one subject. The aim, she said, was to “clear the air a little bit and allow the American people to be part of the process again.”

Lummis, chairman of the House Western Caucus, spoke about the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, which has prompted lawsuits in 32 states.

“The waters in the United States, particularly in the west, have always been the province of the states, pursuant to the Tenth Amendment, and the Constitution makes clear that states have that right,” Lummis said.

“However, under the Waters of the U.S. Rule they have usurped control down to the puddle in states,” she said.

“In my own state of Wyoming there is a couple, husband and wife, who got a permit from the state of Wyoming to legally build a pond on their property, and the EPA came in and is fining them thousands – tens of thousands of dollars under this new rule.”

Lummis said the situation was “absolutely beyond belief, even in this age of regulatory overreach.”

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