House Republicans’ Constitutional Ignorance

Chris Weigant: Political Writer and Blogger at


The Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives are supposed to — according to their own statements — absolutely revere the United States Constitution. They even opened their current congressional session by reading the whole text of the document aloud (or, at least, the non-embarrassing parts of it). So it’s a little surprising that they appear not to understand one of the bedrock ideas enshrined within the Constitution — how a bill becomes a law. House Republican leaders have announced they’ll be voting on a bill this Friday (charmingly entitled the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act”). This bill reportedly contains a piece of legislative fantasy within it — that the House of Representatives can declare something to be the “law of the land” without any input or action from either the Senate or President Obama.

From the Washington Post blog which brought this to my attention:

As negotiations on funding the federal government continue in fits and starts ahead of an April 8 deadline, House Republican leaders on Wednesday announced that they plan to pressure the Senate by voting Friday on a measure that they have termed the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act.”

“What this bill says is it reiterates again the deadline, and that the Senate should act before the deadline, and that’s what the American people are expecting,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday morning at a news conference with other House Republican leaders. “The bill then says if the Senate does not act, then H.R. 1 [the House-passed bill that cuts $61 billion] will be the law of the land. In addition to that, it says that if all else fails, and the Senate brings about a shutdown, then members should not get their pay.”

While that bit about cutting off congressional paychecks is something virtually everyone can support, the rest of it is patent nonsense. The idea of a “Government Shutdown Prevention Act” is actually part of the official Republican Party platform (since at least 2008), but that doesn’t mean it gets some sort of free pass on its way to becoming law. Because we have rules for how this is supposed to happen, outside of the Fantasyland which Republicans appear to be residing in these days. Let’s review this process, shall we?