Attempting to trump the U.S. Constitution requires some nerve.
The venerable document already spells out the vow expected of members of Congress. Those legislators “shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support the Constitution.”
Seems rather clear.
Congress put that demand into a full sentence, suitable for a swearing-in ceremony. Aside from a Civil War-era revision, it’s pretty much remained focused on that single, yet comprehensively sufficient charge. Since 1884, the oath has read: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
Apparently, special interest groups can do better.
Since 1986, Washington lobbyist Grover Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform have solicited U.S. senators and representatives to sign the “Federal Taxpayer Protection Pledge.” That oath has evolved into a litmus test of conservatism for Republicans.
Like most special-interest group oaths circulated through Congress, the Norquist pledge forces its signers to function with one group of Americans prioritized over another. Strict adherence to it prevents real compromise to the “fiscal cliff” situation — involving deep, automatic spending cuts and tax increases imposed as penalties for the ongoing federal budget gridlock, unless Congress can resolve its differences before New Year’s Day.
Norquist and his supporters assert that signers are not pledging to him or his group, but to the American people, thanks to four words included in its text. Yet, as Mitt Romney so eloquently reminded his benefactors, 47 percent of the nation’s citizens don’t pay taxes, and Norquist’s document is called the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.” It reads: I, (state your name), pledge to the taxpayers of the (local congressional) district of the state of (state your state) and to the American people that I will: One, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and Two, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
Fiscal prudence can be exercised without signing a no-tax-increase pledge. Indiana’s Richard Lugar did so for almost four decades in the Senate. Lugar contended that special-interest pledges tie lawmakers’ hands. In the summer of 2011, as Congress stood frozen during negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling to pay its bills, Lugar pointed out that many of his pledge-signing colleagues “said they are not in a position to vote for any plan.”
More than a year later, the consequence of those dug-in heels leaves the toes of the American economy gripping the fiscal cliff. That predicament, coupled with the results of last month’s election, has several congressional Republicans backing away from Norquist. Americans are concerned about the impact of a continued impasse inflicting an estimated $500-billion to $800-billion gash in the economy. Sixty-two percent of the public thinks the cliff would have a negative effect on the economy, and 60 percent say it would damage their personal finances, according to a Pew Research Center survey in November.
A resolution involving careful spending reductions, closing tax loopholes, and tax increases on the wealthiest Americans would avoid the drastic, automatic steps. Any pledge that blocks compromise blocks the democratic process.
If politicians need to validate their worthiness beyond their constitutional vows, they ought put their signature on an oath or pledge based on character, rather than single-minded topics. The Boy Scout Promise calls for young men to abide by 12 points in the Scout Law, by being “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” The Girl Scout Law also would set an interesting standard for Capitol Hill occupants — “I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place …” Of course, the biblical book of Matthew advises man not to swear oaths, but to instead “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’”
In “Following the Equator,” America’s greatest writer, Mark Twain, wrote, “To make a pledge of any kind is to declare war against nature; for a pledge is a chain that is always clanking and reminding the wearer of it that he is not a free man.” Members of Congress should be free to consider all sides of an issue, all the people it affects, and all the remedies available. If we Americans dislike the outcome, we are free to respond by putting our own ink on another document …
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attempting to trump the U.S. Constitution requires some nerve.
RONN MOTT: Christmas 2013
Sitting on the front porch in my favorite chair, I began to count the buds and flowers on the Christmas cactus that is on the porch all year. The legend is it will bloom for Christmas and true to the legend this cactus has bloomed consistently around the Christmas season. I counted 40 buds and flowers and I stopped when I reached 40 with more left on the plant. I guess without hesitation that means Christmas is for sure about to arrive.
Editorial: Intriguing option for ISU towers
It’s appropriate that Indiana State University’s Recycling Center on North Ninth Street sits in the shadow of two hulking, well-used, 15-story towers that, if things develop as they might, could themselves be recycled rather than imploded.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 12, 2013
Noteworthy in the news: Another landmark for Pat Rady
A few weeks ago, Pat Rady embarked on his 50th year as a head basketball coach. Last weekend, he punctuated his landmark season at Cloverdale High School in Putnam County with the 724th victory of his stellar career, a mark that makes him the second winningest coach — and tops among active coaches — in Indiana basketball. It’s a remarkable achievement, and he appears to be going strong.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 11, 2013
RONN MOTT: Seeds from the same tree
Mahatma Gandhi, who was born in India before the turn of the 20th Century, went to England to study law and decided to settle in South Africa, and he did for 20 years. His work in South Africa was involved in the right of his Indian neighbors to have equal access to civil rights. He also worked for the indigenous people as well. When the people of India became restive during the early days of World War I, Gandhi came home.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 10, 2013
• Proud of diploma from McLean HS
• Sports could use drone’s eye view
• Another great downtown fest
• ISU’s silence is disappointing
MS. TAKES: Important date passes by without much notice
Recently we were asked to share our memories of the Kennedy assassination. Folks were interviewed for television or radio, or were asked to recall exactly what they were doing when they got word that our president had been murdered.
GUEST EDITORIAL: Lack of vaccinations puts children, community at risk
U.S. vaccination programs appear to have become a victim of their own success. Because many parents have never experienced the effects of childhood diseases such as mumps or measles — let alone polio — they don’t always appreciate the health risks the diseases pose and the continuing need for vaccinations.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 9, 2013
Remove politics from education
FLASHPOINT: Dealing with hunger requires less rhetoric, more action
In November, millions of families in Indiana and across the nation saw their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cut through a planned phase-out of a temporary increase in funding that originally took place during the 2009 recession.
READER FORUM: Dec. 8, 2013
• Diving in to pool project
• A timely review of food basics
• Name-calling shows sad state of our politics
• Republicans their own worst enemy
• Full attack on common sense
EDITORIAL: Refusing to accept injustice, Mandela made world a better place
Injustice seldom ceases easily. Humans rationalize entrenched systems of persecution. Oppressed people or ideas get painted as a danger to the peaceful social order — the status quo. Cast in that image, inequality appears acceptable, even necessary, to the masses.
Time for a tour?
There’s an essay-type question that shows up on history exams, college applications, “Saturday Night Live” skits and quite possibly requests for platinum credit cards.
GUEST EDITORIAL: Congress now free from the threat of too much work
The headline on the Congress-watching newspaper Politico said it all: “Done.”
RONN MOTT: A friend celebrates his 90th
I went to Charlie Fox’s 90th birthday party Sunday last. He was standing greeting people as they came in the door. I never saw him sit down even one time. He looked more like a man celebrating his 60th rather than his 90th.
Editorial: Bring on the ‘Miracle’
For five miraculous years, Terre Haute’s Christmas festival on a Friday night in early December has grown and prospered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 6, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cigars
Leaving Baesler’s Market the other day, making my round of errands, I started to re-light my cigar. It was left over from the day before and I did not place it in the humidor. It had gotten too dry, so I threw it into my garbage sack asking myself the question, “Why do I do this?” Well, I do it because I enjoy it.
TRIBUNE-STAR EDITORIAL: Changing attitudes demand GOP action
From all indications, the Republican Party’s legislative leadership will punt away in its next session the opportunity to make a good decision on behalf of all Hoosiers about placing a same-sex marriage ban in the state’s constitution.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 5, 2013
• Anarchy is in the ‘tea’ leaves
Editorial: Help us spread holiday cheer
The kind and generous people of the Wabash Valley are called upon often to help those less fortunate. We are proud to live an area where that call never goes unanswered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 4, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cats, Inc.
I suppose we should give her a cake and a candle, but she would be happier with a handful of “treats” you can find wherever you shop for groceries. I’m talking about the two-year anniversary of the first cat we adopted. If we had known there were going to be more, her name probably would have been different. She was Orange Crush, a small, bedraggled, starving, Golden Tabby female that wandered into our yard a little after Thanksgiving. She had been badly maltreated.
MS. TAKES: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of. Our friend, Bill, stopped by our table to offer holiday felicitations and the conversation turned, as it often does this time of year, to Christmas.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 3, 2013
• Prestige chosen over practicality
• Tea partiers love country, freedom
• Same old clowns
LIZ CIANCONE: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 3, 2013
Prestige chosen over practicality
Tea partiers love country, freedom
Same old clowns
EDITORIAL: For NESC, transparency best option
The five-member board of the Northeast School Corp. of Sullivan County is in the midst of tough times as it faces a difficult decision on the future of its schools, including Union High School in Dugger.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 2, 2013
‘Ask not …’: Living by the words we speak
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- RONN MOTT: Christmas 2013