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photo credit: Deseret News
Due primarily to the influence of a large number of members of the LDS Church, Utah has an interesting political dynamic with regards to the Constitution. A majority of residents would agree with the statement that the Constitution is an inspired document, and many profess a love of and respect for this foundation of our government. More importantly, there are many who are willing to promote and defend its principles—evidenced by the swelling ranks and increased activity of organizations such as the Campaign for Liberty, Tea Party Patriots, 9/12, Patrick Henry Caucus, John Birch Society, and others.
At a time when our Constitution is being ignored, subverted, and dismissed as an anachronistic piece of history, we have seen a number of individuals who are concerned enough to offer their services in its defense by stepping into the 2010 Senate race. Many of the positions held by these candidates are familiar to Utahns because they are based in the Constitution, founded upon the principles of liberty, and resonate with individuals seeking to get the federal government off of their backs and out of their wallets.
Three-term incumbent Senator Bob Bennett, however, appears clearly out of step with this adherence to the Constitution and out of touch with his constituents. So foreign is his message to those he portends to represent that in one recent “fireside chat” he stated that he was holding such meetings to “reintroduce [himself] to the people of Utah.” A recent poll showed that 73% of Republicans voters feel that congressional Republicans have lost touch with their base. Senator Bennett, then, certainly has plenty of company.
Speaking with campaign platitudes such as “the fight is now,” Bennett has crafted a campaign speech based on scary numbers, Democrat blunders, and the perilous situation in which we find ourselves as a nation. Notably, the only mentions of the Constitution on his campaign site, with one minor exception, are from others leaving comments on his posts. Senator Bennett simply does not speak the language of the Constitution.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than by the Senator’s words, attitudes and approach to his own work and legislation. When Senator Bennett was asked regarding the constitutionality of the health care bill he has worked on—a bill which, like Obama’s version, would include a forced mandate requiring every American to purchase health insurance—the following response was made:
Bennett said this week that the constitutional issues never came up as they crafted their health care fix. He said he looked at the individual mandate in health care as something analogous to the requirement to have car insurance.
Never mind the fact that the car insurance reference is a poor comparison full of holes, so much so that one is left wondering how a three-term Senator could even relate the two. More important here is the frank admission that when crafting a significant—though detestable—piece of legislation, Senator Bennett did not even bother considering whether he and his colleagues even had the constitutional authority to do any of it.
Lest the reader think that this is an anomaly in an otherwise stellar career of constitutional advocacy, it becomes necessary to dig a little deeper to gain a better understanding of why Senator Bob Bennett is no friend of the Constitution. Upon assuming office for each of his three terms, this man (like all of his colleagues) made an oath which says, in part, that he would “support and defend the Constitution.”
In this, Senator Bennett has failed.
The reader’s attention span and this article’s succinctness require that only a select few of Senator Bennett’s votes be cited as evidence of his indifference towards (if not disdain for) the Constitution. This author has identified, at the time of writing, a total of 84 votes by the Senator on controversial, significant, or otherwise notable pieces of legislation which stand in stark contrast to the limited powers conferred by “We, the People” to Congress and the principles of liberty enshrined in the Constitution. A few examples will suffice to illustrate Senator Bennett’s unfriendliness towards this document.
Trade Promotion Authority
In November of 2001, the House of Representatives passed a bill to give President Bush “Trade Promotion Authority” (previously called “fast-track authority”) in order to negotiate so-called “free trade” agreements. By passing this bill, Congress was limiting its own legislative powers since they would only be able to vote up or down on the President’s proposed agreements. Just as European countries have seen a loss of sovereignty with the expanding power and influence of the European Union, so too would the United States be further bound by agreements that are publicly labeled as “free trade” but in reality are bureaucratic-managed trade imposing onerous regulations, siphoning money, and diminishing the sovereign power of our own legislative bodies to determine what is best for our country.
The Senate version of the bill went a step further by expanding trade agreements, and increasing the entitlement programs under the Trade Adjustment Assistance—an individual bailout agency which provides benefits, subsidies, and other financial assistance for workers who lose their jobs as a result of foreign competition. Senator Bennett joined 65 of his colleagues in voting for this bill. At the time of its passage, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that it would have a net negative impact of $12 billion over the next decade.
Agriculture Emergency Assistance
A farm bill was proposed in the Senate in late 2001 to reauthorize the federal government’s many (un-constitutional) agricultural programs. One of the 245 amendments was proposed by Senator Baucus (D-MT) which would amend the bill to mandate $2.35 billion in emergency agricultural assistance, including $1.8 billion for a crop disaster program, $500 million for livestock, and $100 million for apple growers—essentially, a bailout for the agricultural industry.
According to Senate rules, a point of order is allowed if any change in spending would exceed the totals established by Congress in the Budget Act, and 60 votes (three-fifths of the Senate) are required to dismiss the point of order and carry on with the business. This amendment qualified under the terms here described, and Senator Lugar (R-IN) raised the point of order. The vote to dismiss this point of order (or in other words, the vote to support this massive bailout and shut down an attempt to question its fiscal wisdom) passed by 69-30.
Senator Bennett was among those who supported this bailout. The amendment then proceeded and was successfully passed on a voice (unrecorded) vote.
One year later brought the same thing, only at a higher cost. In debate on the appropriations bills House Resolution 5093, Senator Dashcle (D-SD) proposed an amendment to provided nearly $6 billion in “disaster” aid to farmers affected by drought. This money came in addition to what was appropriated the previous May in the 10-year farm bill, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would cost $781 billion.
As happened previously, a point of order was raised, and Daschle made a motion to wave the Budget Act with respect to his amendment. This motion—another vote in support of a bailout for the agricultural industry—was passed on September 10, 2002 by a vote of 79 to 16. Senator Bennett voted in favor of this bailout, helping lead to a voice vote passing Daschle’s amendment.
Debt Limit Increase
On May 23, 2003 the Senate passed House Resolution 51 by a vote of 53 to 44. This resolution raised the public debt ceiling by $984 billion (after being raised by $450 billion the year previous). On September 27, 2007 the Senate passed House Resolution 43 by a vote of 53 to 42, raising the debt limit by $850 billion to a new high of $9.8 trillion. This was the fifth increase in the debt limit since 2002, representing a $3 trillion increase over the previous five years. The debt limit has been raised several other times, of course, but showing just these two votes is an interesting snapshot when contrasted with the fact that while Senator Bennett voted for these big-government debt increases, he voted against raising the debt limit when the President pushing for the increased debt had a “D” after his name, rather than an “R”.
Prescription Drug Benefit
On November 25, 2003 the Senate voted 54 to 44 to pass the final conference report of House Resolution 1. This version created a prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients which would heavily subsidize the purchase of drugs for seniors and low-income recipients. The total cost of this un-constitutional program was projected at the time of passage to be $434 billion, was revised one month later to be $534 billion, and just over one year after that was projected to cost $1.2 trillion over the decade following its enactment. According to one report, this benefit program alone “adds some $17 trillion to the projected Medicare shortfall — an amount greater than all of Social Security’s unfunded obligations.”
Senator Bennett was among those voting for this un-constitutional subsidization of medicine and bailout for seniors and low-income families.
The Mother of All Bailouts
This bill, as most know, authorized the Treasury Department to enjoy a $700 billion line of credit (of taxpayer money) to purchase “troubled” mortgage-related securities from banks and other financial institutions. This bailout also increased the FDIC protection for bank accounts from $100,000 to $250,000, extended dozens of tax provisions set to expire, and increased incentives for renewable energy development and use, among other things. The fear-based argument used to justify political support for this bailout—that the lending markets were frozen, the economy was on the cliff and it needed a “jump start”—have since proven false. Senator Bennett bought into this fear hook, line, and sinker as demonstrated by a recent statement in which he said:
I strongly believe we did the right thing by passing the initial round of TARP to make credit available and avoid a collapse of the entire system.
Senator Bob “Bailout” Bennett will feel the heat on the campaign trail this year as he attempts to justify his votes and defend or redefine his record. Perhaps he agrees with then-President Bush who, defending his own support for the bailouts, declared, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.”
Just as one cannot save the free market by abandoning the principles upon which it is founded (and, in fact, promoting government action which would have a damaging effect on the very thing supposedly trying to be saved), one cannot save the Constitution by repeatedly ignoring its restrictions on authority.
Senator Bennett has found it necessary to “reintroduce” himself to the people of Utah no doubt because he is unrecognizable as a Senator who has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution, because he failed to stand up and carry out that oath. Perhaps this analysis is what led the President of the Club For Growth to recently state that “Bob Bennett is out of touch with the times and with his state, and Utah Republicans have better choices for their candidate in November.”
Jesus Christ once taught his followers that “by their fruits ye shall know them”. One can only assume that Senator Bennett is a kind and friendly individual, but his fruits—of which only a very small portion have been highlighted in this article—clearly demonstrate who Bennett is not, and that is a friend of the Constitution.