There are few parts of the Constitution more clear than, “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills” (Article I, Section 7, Clause 1). In a vote taken well after midnight (the supposed deadline) Dec. 31, the Senate passed a bill raising taxes on those with incomes above $400,000 a year, a tax increase on this group from 35% of their annual income to 39.6%, and the removal of tax exemptions for those making $250,000 or more a year.
The capital gains tax on everyone was raised from 15% to 20% and there were other adjustments of the tax code as well.
This bill definitely did not originate in the House of Representatives as required by the Constitution.
So, does anyone care?
The Senate then forwarded their “revenue raising” bill to the House the day after the deadline, presenting them with a single choice, be blamed for taking the country over the so-called fiscal cliff or not.
With no way to modify any of its provisions and the bell having already rung ending the tournament, they agreed.
It is true that the House had not presented to the Senate any revenue raising solution as it opposed the same, largely because President Barack Obama had made it clear that he would not sign any law that did not raise revenue on the rich. Still, the House is the only body that had authority to do so and their intention not to support a tax increase, by not originating one, should have stood regardless of what the Senate and President thought or wanted. Allowing these other bodies to do so for them has weakened this part of the Constitution and House authority. Henceforth, past practice wrongly will be used to legitimize future revenue raising by the Senate and this part of the Constitution, in effect, will be obliterated.
So why should you care?
For thousands of years, until the Constitution, governments taxed their citizens whenever and whatever they wished. If the pharaoh in Egypt wanted bricks without straw from the Israelites, for instance, so be it. In our republic we have two legislative bodies, the House to represent the people, and the Senate to represent the individual states.
Prior to 1913, the state legislators elected the Senate so that it could protect the interests of the states from the federal government’s natural inclination to grow, absorbing state functions. This is called federalism — shared government. The House was to protect the interests of the people as its first and major concern.
The power of the purse (both taxing and spending) is one of the most important powers of the Constitution. The Founders resolved that it should be left with the representatives of the people; “all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives (Article I, Section 7).”
This made it impossible for the people to be overtaxed for more than two years as all members of this body come up for reelection on the same date — every two years.
Addressing this subject, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, observed, “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.”
The U.S. Constitution mandates that “the House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of government.”
This power alone he added, “can overcome all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. They, in a word, hold the purse… (The Federalist 58).”
Taxes, the historic grievances of the masses of all ages, were left to this body alone to originate or initiate.
The significance of this placement cannot be over-stated. In the Constitution only the masses could originate taxes as all revenue for the government came from the backs of the people.
In the United States it is impossible to be over-taxed if we are following the Constitution. No other nation in all of history, as far as we know, had this protection from their government.
This may seem like a small thing given all the hype on the fiscal cliff, but the people really do not want to surrender their freedom from excessive taxation, which, prior to this document was virtually unheard of in the history of the world.
Losing this is far more serious than what pundits said would be the worst-case scenario of the cliff because, once gone, it is unlikely to be retrieved. Members of Congress are doing so incrementally by not insisting that the government stay within its bounds and honor the document that they individually have sworn to uphold.
No one will destroy the Constitution all at one time but by their ignorance or worshipful loyalty to party, they are doing so one piece at a time.
If your representatives voted for this please send him a copy of this article so that he/she will be more sensitive to this issue in the future.
Dr. Harold Pease has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College.