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Once Again, Congress Is Exempted

inside private jet [1]There is a continuing theme in Congress and many of our State Legislatures that what’s good for goose, is only good for the goose.

Take a gander [2].  Yes, you read that right.  Congressmen can fly around in private jets, and can even buy brand-spanking new ones.  Even though they criticize those in the business world who do the same (remember the CEOs of the Big Three Auto companies?).  The best part is, Congress does it with money that they forcibly take from us (I am loathe to call it “theft”, although the temptation to do so has grown in the past six months).  Businesses do it with money they earn.  Earn.

I think I will start a new category (at The Conservative Reader [3]): Congressional Exemptions [4].

You see, Congress is of the opinion that they are, ahem, not always obliged to conform to the same set of laws or ideals that the rest of us are.

Truly.

And this is due in no small part to the Constitution of the United States.  Yes that very document that we hold so dear as the last vestige of solace to those that would decry a tyrannical government.

Article I, Section 6 (The Legislative Branch – Compensation): …”They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”

This is not language unique to the US Constitution, as most US states and Great Britain provide this protection to their legislative bodies.

It seems absolutely indespensable [sic] for the just exercise of the legislative power in every nation, purporting to possess a free constitution of government; and it cannot be surrendered without endangering the public liberties, as well as the private independence of the members.  [Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Joseph Story, 1833, p. 307 [5]]

Those this particular facet of the Constitution makes practical sense to ensure that members of Congress are not waylaid nor compelled to act against their own judgment while acting in their official capacity as a representative of the people, it is nonetheless a part of the large trappings of power that infuses these members with an inappropriate sense of superiority.  But there are days like today when I think we should just arrest the whole lot of them.

Members of Congress were expected from the very beginning to act with integrity and the expectation that they did not live above the law that we all live by (though we know otherwise).  James Madison, writing Federalist 57 (titled The Alleged Tendency of the New Plan to Elevate the Few at the Expense of the Many Considered in Connection with Representation), stated:

“I will add, as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and, above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America—a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.

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.” [The Federalist Papers – Number 57, Publius (James Madison), 1788 [6]]

In other words, there is no reason to believe that, even Congress were so fool-hardy to think they could put themselves above the Law and the People, that the People would surely not tolerate such tyranny.
231 years later, we know a little differently.  For many years now, Congress has been quietly and cautiously finding ways here and there to exempt itself from its own doings.  The existence of internal committees to make rules and set boundaries has certainly helped keep some from jumping off the edge like Daffy Duck diving into that huge pile of treasure in Ali Baba Bunny.  “I’m rich! I’m wealthy! Yahoo! I’m comfortably well off, woo hoo!”.  But not enough to keep Congress from being double-minded.

Congress plays it as a game, and since 1883 has been legislating exceptions for itself routinely.  In 1993, this report [7] (found at the US House’s own Rules Committee web site [8]) provided a list of exceptions that had been established up to that time.  And this list would not likely include something like today’s story… today’s story simply points out hypocrisy and special treatment, not the overt legal exceptions listed in the Rules Committee report.

Why is this okay?  Because, like anything else in government, if no one cries foul then there is no foul.

This whole story is telling.  The game here is that everyone in power, including Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, and those employed throughout the government, are all in on the game.  Despite the “balance of power” delegated to the three branches of government, in hopes of protecting the people from abuse, these same three branches have learned to create a balance that perpetuates a class of power which overshadows the People instead of serving the People.  None of the three is likely to seriously defang the others for fear of bringing the whole house down.

If only the People would wake up and see what kind of duplicity is being perpetrated upon them, they might lift their voices higher and higher to bring Congress down.  Beyond Tea Parties.  Beyond Contracts with America.  It is time to clean house.  It’s time to make 2010 a watershed year for Liberty.

“Such will be the relation between the House of Representatives and their constituents. Duty, gratitude, interest, ambition itself, are the chords by which they will be bound to fidelity and sympathy with the great mass of the people. It is possible that these may all be insufficient to control the caprice and wickedness of man.”  [The Federalist Papers – Number 57, Publius (James Madison), 1788 [6]]

[sigh]

Reading assignment:

Cross-posted from The Conservative Reader [3].