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December 19, 2007

The Enumerated Powers Act

Today’s Downsizer Dispatch . . .

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Quotes of the Day:

“This government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers.”
— Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland

“We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers.”
— Chief Justice William Rehnquist in United States v. Lopez

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce.”
— James Madison, Federalist No. 45

Subject: The Enumerated Powers Act

It’s time for Congress to “cite chapter and verse.” When they pass new laws or spend taxpayer money they should be required to point to the specific language in the Constitution that empowers that action. The “Enumerated Powers Act” would require them to do precisely that. Help us bring this bill to a vote.

The specific, “enumerated” powers of Congress are spelled out in Article of I Section 8 of the Constitution. Congress has, by our count, twenty powers or areas of responsibility. You can read the list here.

Because these powers are delegated from the people, they are the only powers Congress has. But our Founding Fathers went further than simply listing what Congress could do. They also listed, in the Bill of Rights, many specific things the government could not do.

Most importantly, the 10th Amendment specifically limits the federal government to just those powers and functions named in the Constitution. And the 9th Amendment makes it clear that the people also have many other rights the government must respect, extending far beyond those actually named in the Bill of Rights.

The Ninth Amendment reads: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Tenth Amendment reads: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Taken as a whole, the Constitution creates a government of very few powers, and a great many limitations.

In addition, there is a tradition that every member of Congress, upon taking office, swears an oath to serve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Sadly, most of these oath-takers immediately become law-breakers, passing laws and expending funds in ways the Constitution forbids.


Had Congress adhered to its enumerated powers the federal government would be vastly smaller, and far more decentralized.

The politicians in Congress rarely bother to offer Constitutional justification for their actions, but when pressed to do so they will usually misapply passages such as the “Necessary & Proper Clause,” or the “Commerce Clause,” or resort to Supreme Court decisions that are themselves unconstitutional.

Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) has a plan to change all this. He has introduced “The Enumerated Powers Act” (EPA) – HR 1359 [You can read the entire bill on our Background page]. EPA would require every law passed by Congress to reference the specific clause(s) of the U.S. Constitution that grant the authority for that law.

What difference will it make if we require them to “cite chapter and verse” from the Constitution to show where it gives them the authority to pass a law, create or maintain a program, or lay a tax?

* Well, it might slow them down.
* It might mean that they reconsider a proposal instead of introducing it.

But we freely admit, this new law won’t stop them.

Instead, we believe it will build the evidence necessary to make some real reforms later. After all, how many different actions per day can Congress blame on the Commerce Clause before either a judge or the people revolt against the charade?

EPA might even, eventually, embarrass Congress.

There’s an old Texas _legend_ that says a young politician by the name of Lyndon Johnson was looking for an edge in his campaign. Johnson suggested to his campaign manager that they start a rumor that his opponent enjoyed sexual congress with pigs. His campaign manager reacted in shock: “Lyndon you know that’s not true.”

“Sure,” Lyndon is alleged to have replied, “I just want to watch him deny it.”

Well, Congress does lots of unconstitutional things, and that’s no rumor. Now, we just need to make them deny it. Send a message to Congress and ask them to pass EPA.

URGENT NOTICE: We still need $1,274 to make budget for December. If you can help cover half of that amount, another generous donor will cover the other half. Contribute here.

Or, if you need tax deducations at the end of the year, you can contribute to the Downsize DC Foundation here.

Thank you for being a part of our growing Downsize DC Army.

Jim Babka
President, Inc.

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