(Peter Roff/US News) – Arguing that “So much of the government overreach we’ve seen the past few years could be prevented just by enforcing the constitutional protections we already have,” Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole is proposing legislation that would help put the teeth back into the Constitution’s 10th Amendment.
Cole’s H.R. 4946–the 10th Amendment Regulatory Reform Act–is a simple bill, one that would give special standing to certain, specific state executive and legislative leaders that would allow them to challenge in federal court regulations issued by federal administrative agencies attempting to implement new federal laws or presidential executive orders.
Under Cole’s legislation, which is also backed by Florida Republican Tom Rooney, any rule proposed by a federal agency could be subject to a constitutional challenge if a designated state official or officials assert the proposed rule infringes on powers reserved to the states under the 10th Amendment–that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Cole’s bill, rather than create an ungovernable free-for-all, outlines a specific process under which such challenges would have to be put forward. Federal agencies would be required to publicly post and rule on challenges filed by designated state officials and would have 15 days to withdraw the rule or issue a written declaration certifying that, under the 10th Amendment, in their view the rule had constitutional standing.
State officials empowered to issue challenges under Cole’s bill include governors, lieutenant governors, state attorneys general, and the majority or minority leaders in state legislative bodies.
“The election made it clear that Americans want a more limited, less costly government. The 10th Amendment is one of the best methods we have to achieve that,” Cole said, adding that he was “optimistic that important reforms like this will move quickly in the new Congress.”
He may be right. The stunning rebuke delivered to President Obama and the Democrats at all levels of government–federal, state, and local–and by so many divergent voter groups, including the crucial bloc of independents who swung the election to him in 2008–can be interpreted as a rejection of larger, more expensive, more intrusively and ultimately unaccountable government. Recall Nancy Pelosi’s famous remark about having to pass the healthcare bill before people could know what was in it.
The idea of putting limits on the power of the federal government is not, as some of my bloleagues have suggested, a radical notion pushed by the Tea Parties and other politically influential organizations who, its is falsely argued, really want no government at all; it’s an idea as old as the nation itself, one that can be found repeatedly in the Constitution. Cole’s bill is a small but important step in the right direction and Congress, under its new leadership in January, should make sure it gets a vote.