A Closer Look at Article I

I’ve been thinking often these past couple months about a young farmer I met in Eastern Washington.

For generations, his family ran a farm and put food on plates across the country.

But feeling completely strangled by regulations coming out of D.C., he told me he decided to end his family’s business. He said what I’ve heard so many others say: “Cathy, it just wasn’t worth the hassle.”

He had no say in the regulations that affected his livelihood and ultimately crushed his desire to maintain the family business. He, and millions of Americans in similar situations, have no voice.

Representative government serves the people, not the other way around.

And that is why my colleagues and I have dedicated ourselves to restoring the balance of power found in the Constitution.

Because America is a promise – a promise that every man, woman, and child in America, no matter their background or walk of life, should have the freedom to pursue their own unique version of the American Dream.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost sight of that vision. What was once three co-equal branches has gotten off-kilter. Now, judges legislate from the bench, and rules are decided by faceless bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. who regulate everything from overtime pay to mud puddles and leave people without a say through their elected representatives. The American Dream is being replaced by the American “Good Enough.”

Our Founders gifted us with the greatest experiment in self-governance the world has ever known.But with self-governance comes the need for self-reflection.

And that’s why House Republicans are offering a Better Way – to address the very real challenges Americans across the country face and offer real policy solutions to get our country back on track. It’s time to take the government off of autopilot and restore the House’s constitutional role outlined in Article I of the Constitution.

While we work to restore what I like to call the “We the People” mandate in our Constitution, let’s go back even further. What exactly is Article I?

Philosophical Beginnings
The philosophical concept of separation of powers isn’t new, but more important than ever before.

From Aristotle to John Locke to Baron de Montesquieu, our Founders tapped into the intellectual minds of the people before them as they created this great experiment.

The idea was simple: three separate branches of government. First, the Legislative Branch to make the laws based on the consent and input of the American people. Second, the Executive Branch to implement and enforce the laws. And third, the Judicial Branch to interpret the laws. None had more power over the others, and they were checked by the other two. They were intended to be separate and have their own unique responsibilities, and most importantly – limitations.

For James Madison, the author of the Constitution, the system of checks and balances was the best solution to stopping a government from overstepping its bounds. As he wrote in Federalist No. 51:

“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

What does Article I say?
Although it is a co-equal branch, the legislative branch is by design the superior branch because it is the closest to “We the People.”

Here, in the House and Senate, the people through their elected representatives write the laws, assert the ultimate power over their government – and express their consent to be governed.

You don’t need to look any further than the architecture of Washington, D.C. to see what our Founders envisioned. It’s not by mistake that the Dome over the Congress is the very center of the Federal City. The White House and the Supreme Court are set about the Capitol, satellites to the supreme power of the People expressed in this legislative body.

Article I of the Constitution succinctly empowers these elected representatives in the House and Senate with all responsibility to establish laws for the common good.

No other institution has such power because no other institution is as accountable to the people.

Presidents can veto. Supreme Courts can strike down. But Congress is the exclusive seat of lawmaking power. Not some guy in the basement of the Labor Department.

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Source: Architect of the Capitol

Congress
Article I outlines the who, what, when, where, and how old of the House and the Senate. This includes length of terms, how often the representatives and senators are elected, who/how many they represent, and the role of the Vice President.

Power of the Purse
All legislation involving taxation is required to originate from the House, because it’s the body closest to the people. Congress has the power to create and collect taxes, duties, and excises, and to pay debts as long as these were all standard across the country. Congress also has the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States, to print money, and to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with tribes. The power of the purse is the single best tool we have to hold the Executive Branch accountable. Through the appropriations process we ensure that the American people’s priorities come first, and that their voices are heard no matter who is president.

National Defense
Although the President is the Commander-in-Chief, only Congress has the power to declare war and to make rules for the military. We are responsible for allocating money to support our military, as long as the funding only lasts for two years, after which we review, rethink, and renew our defense programs.

Innovation and Communication
Congress is also responsible for establishing post offices and post roads, issuing patents and copyrights, and establishing courts beneath the Supreme Court.

Accountability
Only the Senate can try impeachments, with the Chief Justice presiding. The House is required to keep and publish a journal of its proceedings, which you can read here. Oversight of the Executive Branch is part of Congress’s duty as representatives of the American people. Article I grants the broad authority to make laws that are necessary and proper for executing constitutional powers, which requires oversight of how laws are being implemented and how much it costs the taxpayers.

What Can’t Congress Do?
With responsibilities comes restrictions. Congress cannot pass Bills of Attainder, which punish people outside of the court system, or ex post facto laws, which retroactively outlaw actions that have already been committed. We also cannot suspend Habeas Corpus, the requirement that you be charged for a crime if you are arrested, except during times of national emergency.

What Can Congress Do, but States Can’t?
There are few powers kept exclusively at the federal level, and they’re outlined in Article I. Individual states cannot enter treaties with foreign nations, coin money, or engage in war unless invaded. They can organize and arm militias, like the National Guard, as outlined by Congress but they cannot otherwise keep troops or armies during times of peace.

Click here to read Article I in its entirety.