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Constitution, TARP and so on


Mike Simpson

Large chunks of the debate among the Republican candidates for the Idaho 2nd district House seat – incumbent Mike Simpson and challengers Russ Mathews and Chick Heileson – are well worth a review. It was in the main, though, a conflict between Simpson and Heileson, who probably let not a sentence go by without including the word “constitution” and making very clear that he, and not necessarily anyone else to include the Supreme Court, knows what it means.

Maybe the key topic was the federal payout, in late 2008 and early 2009, in the TARP (banking) and other programs. Simpson was among those voting in favor, and that is a big part of why he has two energetic opponents this year. His take on why he voted as he did is worth running here (and worth reading) in full:

Given the same circumstances and the same knowledge we had at the time, I don’t think we had a choice. I think everybody believed something had to be done. You right: I knew we would get to this tonight because both of my opponents have criticized that vote, as have many people. But I will tell you when you’re standing in a room, or sitting in a room, with the secretary of the treasury and the chairman of the federal reserve, and they’re speaking, and their lower lip is shaking, and you can look in their eyes – and they’re scared. Because they see the economy going off the cliff. Literally going off the cliff. They see economic Armageddon coming if something isn’t done. Now whether TARP was the right thing to do or not, if other things could have been done – no one has proposed what else we could have done.

Some people have said it is unconstitutional. No: It is tied to the constitution. It is tied to the first Congress tht employed these powers in 1791 to incorporate and charter the first Bank of the United States. This is what the Supreme Court said in McCullough vs. Maryland, when they reviewed that case. They said in upholding that [action], they said that although no provision in the U.S. Constitution expressly authorizes the chartering of a national bank, doing so was necessary and proper. There is a “necessary and proper” clause in our constitution. Incident to the powers to lay and collect taxes, to borrow money, to regulate commerce, to declare and conduct war and to raise armies. The financial system depended on this.

This was not a bank bailout. This was a financial and credit system bailout. We had credit being frozen in this country. We were looking at potentially, and I think most economists will agree, probably 25% to 30% unemployment in this country if we did nothing. I am unwilling to accept that. So we did what we thought was necessary. If there are other ideas out there that we could have done to free up this credit situation, we would have looked at those options also. But to just sit back and say, “let them fail,” that was not an option I was willing to accept.

The challengers had very different views, naturally. Mathews argued against it largely on the basis that “Those corrections would have taken place anyway.” Heileson’s approach was quite different: What Congress did was simply unconstitutional – in his reading of the constitution – and that was that.

Quite literally, that was that: Neither the will of the people, the well-being of the United States or anything else should, in Heileson’s view, take precedent over what Heileson thinks some of the founders thought about their world in 1789:

“First of all, this is not a democracy. We don’t ask the will of the people what to do. You don’t take an oath to the Republican Party, the Supreme Court or Ben Bernanke or any of those guys, you take an oath to the constitution. It’s not what the people want, it’s what we have to do. If they can overturn things and make things – you know, well, you, say “we’ve got to do it because it’s expedient,” then what the heck did they write – my wife would have got mad because I would have said hell – what the hell did they – you think you can do anything you want. It’s not true. You have to follow that, and people haveto go broke, they’re going to get bailed out – let’s bail out everybody. Leave the rest of the constitution out and make decisions because we think it’s right. Or do we follow the rule of law. It is the rule of law. It is a republic, not a democracy.”

Simpson’s response was this: “I agree, you follow the constitution and you follow your oath of office. But you know what? People disagree about what the constitution says. Our forefathers, the ones that wrote the constitution, disagreed about what it said when they applied it to specific situations. This was 1791. This was two years after the constitution was ratified. These were the people that actually wrote it. Ultimately, someone has to decide what the constitution says. Now, Chick has his opinion and I have my opinion and Russ has his opinion. We probably agree 90% of the time on what it says, or maybe even more. But ultimately, someone has to have the authority to make a determination. That’s the Supreme Court. And when the Supreme Court says something is constitutional, then it’s constitutional. If you disagree with it, then it’s up to us to try to change that. But that’s the way it goes.”

And, toward the end of the debate, this:

“Now, I’ve cast 7,500-and some odd votes in my term in Congress, so essentially Chick is saying I voted against the constitution 3,750 times. I think that’s ludricrous. Are there some issues we disagree on? Sure. But ultimately the arbitrator of what is constitutional or not is the Supreme Court, not Chick Heileson.”

This was a significant exchange. The rise of Tea Party constitutionalists has led to a rise as well of self-appointed constitutional scholars, of a small crowd of Chick Heilesons who seem to live in a 1789 of the mind. Simpson, who by any rational measure of politics as it is today is a conservative, delivered here one of the best and strongest rebuttals on record.

Now go watch the video.

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