Freedom First Society

Issue:  H.R. 2577 Making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25).

Result: Passed in House 216 to 210, 7 not voting.  Republicans scored.

Freedom First Society:  The Cabinet-level Housing and Urban Development Department was created in 1965 under the umbrella of President Johnson’s Great Society program, a massive unconstitutional program of federal spending that would greatly encourage state and individual dependence on Washington. The annual appropriations bill provides an unused opportunity for the House to exercise its power of the purse to rein in unconstitutional federal overreach, something neither major party has been willing to do.

We do not score the Democrats on this one, as most undoubtedly voted the right way (No) for the wrong reason — they wanted to spend more.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)

Bill Summary: H.R. 2577 is one of 12 annual appropriations bills. If approved by the Senate and the president, it would appropriate $17.2 billion in discretionary spending to the Department of Transportation and $42 billion to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Fiscal Year 2016.Analysis:  This appropriations bill continues to fund substantial unconstitutional functions authorized by previous Congresses. In the debates on the floor of the House and in the amendments introduced we can find no objection to this continued constitutional abuse, only an argument over how much to spend.

In his opening remarks championing H.R. 2577, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Diaz-Balart, argued that the bill prioritized spending up to the limit of the previously enacted sequester (Budget Control Act) spending caps and the allocation of the House appropriations committee:

“Mr. Chairman, I think this is a balanced bill with the allocation that has been given to us by the chairman. The Department of Transportation is funded at $17.2 billion in budget authority and $70.6 billion in total budgetary resources to ensure, Mr. Chairman, the safe and effective transportation of goods and people in America.

“The Department of Housing and Urban Development is funded at $42 billion to provide housing opportunities and assistance to the most vulnerable in both cities and rural areas across our great Nation….

“I would like to remind my colleagues that if you are going to be voting against this bill, you are voting against the commercial airspace system and our air traffic controllers and control system; against housing programs for the most vulnerable, including the elderly and families; and frankly, you would also be voting against community development block grants that are vital to the cities and counties that we all represent.” [Emphasis added.]

         Representative David Price (D-NC) controlled the debates for the dissenting Democrats. Rep. Price also served on the appropriations subcommittee that produced this bill:

“Mr. Chairman, as we begin consideration of H.R. 2577, the fiscal year 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, I want to start by thanking our chairman, Chairman Diaz-Balart, for the hard work he has put in on this bill….

“He was dealt an impossible hand in the Republican budget and an allocation that is simply unworkable…

“Mr. Chairman, the programs under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee are critical to our Nation’s economic and social well-being: providing necessary funding to improve housing and transportation options, creating infrastructure jobs for hardworking American families, and ensuring safe and adequate transportation networks for goods, commuters, and travelers. But our Nation’s transportation and housing systems face daunting challenges, and on almost every count, this bill falls short.

“The President requested a robust increase for this bill for fiscal 2016, calling on Congress to provide the critical investments necessary to accelerate and sustain economic growth. Unfortunately, the bill before us would not even begin to address our infrastructure needs.”

Here we single out the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a clear-cut example of a federal usurpation that demands to be reversed, not accepted.

Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD]

The Cabinet-level Housing and Urban Development Department was created in 1965 under the umbrella of President Johnson’s Great Society program, a massive program of federal spending that would greatly encourage state and individual dependence on Washington. It’s assault on constitutional restraints was even more damaging. In the years since, neither major party has been willing to call for a reversal of this federal overreach.

For example, HUD would provide funds for urban renewal of cities and open the door for federal rent assistance to low-income families.  When the Department of Housing and Urban Development was created, the Arizona Republic protested:

“Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution give the federal government any control over urban affairs….

“Scarcely a week passes but some city or county department head goes from Phoenix to Washington to get the answer to a problem which, a few years ago, would have been solved in city hall or the court house.”

Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party leader, declared that he did not need to run for president in 1964, because Lyndon Johnson was carrying out his program. Regarding the Johnson “War on Poverty” program, Thomas declared: “I ought to rejoice and I do. I rub my eyes in amazement and surprise. His war on poverty is a Socialistic approach and may be the major issue of the 1964 campaign.”

Constitutional Authority Statement.

Congress typically uses misleading boiler plate language to give the appearance members are adhering to the Constitution. A current House rule (Clause 7(c) of Rule XII) requires that each bill or joint resolution introduced must be accompanied by a statement citing the constitutional authorization for such action.   This game allows representatives to give the impression that their measures respect the Constitution.

The reality, however, is that most of our representatives are using phony boiler plate justifications that permit business as usual in support of a massive unconstitutional bureaucracy, while hoping that uninformed voters won’t catch on.

The constitutional authority statement accompanying this appropriations bill serves as a good example of the subterfuge.   The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25) used the identical language here as the sponsor of the previous year’s appropriations bill (H.R. 4745), Rep. Tom Latham (IA-03):

“The principal constitutional authority for this legislation is clause 7 of section 9 of article I of the Constitution of the United States (the appropriation power), which states:

‘No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law . . . .’”

Citing this clause as justification is not only absurd, it’s intentionally deceptive.   The above procedural clause merely insists that federal money can only be spent when supported by an enacted appropriations bill. It does not say that Congress is authorized to appropriate money for anything it chooses, which would mean no constitutional restraint at all.

The limited areas authorized by the Constitution for federal spending are spelled out in section 8 of article I.   The sponsor’s authority statement continues by citing just the opening clause of that section:

“In addition, clause 1 of section 8 of article I of the Constitution (the spending power) provides:

‘The Congress shall have the Power … to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States….’

“Together, these specific constitutional provisions establish the congressional power of the purse, granting Congress the authority to appropriate funds, to determine their purpose, amount, and period of availability, and to set forth terms and conditions governing their use.” [Emphasis added.]

Incredible! The bill’s sponsor claims that the Constitution gives Congress the power to spend money as it wishes. But such an unlimited grant of authority would negate the very purpose of a Constitution.

Instead, the rest of section 8 lists the specific purposes for which federal spending is allowed. Although Congress may determine which of those purposes a particular appropriations bill supports, the Constitution does not allow Congress to invent new purposes without a Constitutional amendment.

House Power of the Purse

In The Federalist, No. 58, Father of the Constitution James Madison explained the awesome unused power of the purse, which the Constitution assigns to the House of Representatives:

“The House of Representatives can not only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of the government. They, in a word, hold the purse — that powerful instrument [for] finally reducing … all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

Even in modern times, a House majority truly determined to enforce the Constitution and phase out unconstitutional departments and programs could do so.

Of course, such a determined House majority does not yet exist, and, in the face of a big-government promoting Establishment media, the necessary backbone has to come from an informed public back home.

Nevertheless, each representative needs to honor his or her oath to uphold the Constitution and, by not compromising on that oath, set the example for future reinforcements to follow.

Since most of the Democrats who voted against this bill clearly did so because they wanted to spend more, we do not score the Democrats on this roll call.

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