Republicans say they respect the Constitution. Really?
October 4th, 2013
02:51 PM ET

Republicans say they respect the Constitution. Really?

By Allison Stanger, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Allison Stanger is the Leng Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College and author of the forthcoming ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Leaks: The Story of Whistleblowing in America.’ The views expressed are her own.

The chorus of voices condemning the undemocratic tactics of the Republican minority who forced a government shutdown are right on target.  The Affordable Care Act was voted on, the Supreme Court upheld it, and efforts to repeal it failed. As Fareed Zakaria noted today, refusing to allow the government to function until you get your way is not how a democracy is supposed to work.

But the current embarrassing spectacle is no new development – the Republican Party in the Obama years has previously taken a win-at-whatever costs approach in seeking to overturn laws they don’t like by refusing to implement them.

Exhibit A for this approach is the Republican response to Dodd-Frank.  President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Financial Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law on July 21, 2010.  Its full title captures its intent: “An Act to promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail,’ to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.”

The Dodd-Frank legislation weighed in at 2,300 pages, and it left federal regulators to interpret the details and churn out around 400 new rules. This gave Wall Street lobbyists plenty of room for maneuvering, and the Republican Party and its supporters have responded with filibusters and lawsuits, meaning more than two years after the bill was passed, only a third of Dodd-Frank’s regulations were in place.

More from CNN: Where is citizen fury?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was a focal point in the struggle to uphold Dodd-Frank, yet despite its resonance with the Obama administration, the CFPB was one of the most contentious aspects of the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation. It inspired 44 out of 47 Republican Senators to write a letter to President Obama in May 2011 saying they would not confirm any nominee to head the Bureau until structural changes had been made. Forty-four Republican Senators, that is, committed themselves to undoing legislation that had already been passed.

Their demand?  Rewrite important parts of Dodd-Frank and change the bureau itself before they would approve its first director. The White House sought to counter this threat by announcing its choice of Richard Cordray as the CFPB’s first director in July 2011. Since the bureau could not move into full operations without a director, when the confirmation process stalled, President Obama made a recess appointment in January 2012. Obama’s opponents raised the stakes and countered with a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the recess appointment. As a result of all this, Cordray wasn’t confirmed until July 2013. And the reported price for allowing a vote on his appointment?  Democrats had to agree to leave existing filibuster rules in place in exchange for Republicans permitting government to function.

The recent attempt to use the threat of default to undo the Affordable Care Act mirrors the Republican attempts to block the institutionalization of the CFPB. In both instances, rather than implementing laws that have been passed, Republicans instead engaged in a focused effort to undo what was already on the books by other means. But it is one thing to revise or repeal legislation that is no longer working as intended. It is another thing entirely to attempt to subvert law that has yet to be tested in practice.

So why are the Republicans so flummoxed by the idea of the CFPB becoming operational or the ACA becoming law?  They see both as a power grab by Democrats that expands government in undemocratic ways. They believe they are thwarting an ever expansive and expensive nanny state.  The problem with this reading of history is that it implicitly asserts that only some laws that are passed following the rules outlined in the Constitution are valid and others are not, the antithesis of constitutional democracy and the rule of law. It is not the role of one political party to declare a law unconstitutional; that responsibility resides with the Supreme Court.

Public opinion chimes with constitutional precedent. A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in August, before the current crisis had fully erupted, showed that 69 percent of Americans believe that “using the budget process to stop a law is not the way our government should work.” More recently, the GOP super PAC Crossroads GPS surveyed ten states likely to have close House and Senate races and found that among Independents, 58 percent opposed shutting down government to stop implementation of the ACA.

Republicans in Congress have crossed lines that should not be crossed in recent years. When a bill becomes a law, both parties must abide by it unless it is repealed, modified, or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Republican Party’s professed reverence for the Constitution and the glorious tradition of constitutional democracy in America is praiseworthy.

But their actions are not in keeping with their words.

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Topics: Politics • United States

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. ✠RZ✠

    TOO BIG TO FAIL ?!?. Well then how about asking the likes of AIG and it's brethren to come up with the trillions needed to bail out the USGOV now that it's down and out on it's luck. And don't forget about those $million dollar walk back bonuses for the house reps neither!

    October 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Reply
    • john smith

      America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
      In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
      During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
      In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
      Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

      October 5, 2013 at 3:58 am | Reply
      • ✠RZ✠

        John, Why can't you get your act together! "America" is as much the "root of all terror" as Greenland! And a rock or pickle is as much Jewish as a wine or fried potato is French! So listen up! People are the root of all terror! That's right, people! And they come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, and nationalities. And the more uneducated, unintelligent, uninformed, misled, and brainwashed they are, the greater tendency for them to be influenced by merely a single but powerful source. And Hitler was a perfect example. On the other hand, we might now have a few leaders (and I'm going out on a bit of a limb here) that are in fact putting real problems and perhaps "the root of all terror" into the crosshairs thereby altering the course of history by exposing the truth and informing the world. So please, stop aiming at any one nation! Especially one where some of their own police have been clearly programmed to immediately react with deadly force against their helpless own, rather than use a bit of common sense. Your cause, Mr. Smith, is clearly misguided and stinks with provocation rather than providing any solution. Furthermore, I would suggest your labelled response be more appropriately linked to the horse manure being plastered hereabout by that GHDGFHG4574 bonehead. Thank you.

        October 5, 2013 at 5:37 am |
  2. GHDFGH56456

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    October 4, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      assasiNAting.

      October 27, 2013 at 6:44 am | Reply
  3. GHDFGH56456

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    October 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  4. JAL

    I think the GOP will change their tone very soon, so lets stay cool.

    October 4, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      True, in November 2014, there will be midterm elections. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and only 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for grabs. The GOPs and the Tea Baggers dominate the House, while it's the other way round in the Senate.
      The voters might settle a score with the GOPs and the Tea Baggers next year, if they insist on being intransigent and play partisan brinkmanship at the cost of the country's future.

      October 5, 2013 at 8:42 am | Reply
    • mickster1

      The teabaggers are non-negotiable and always and forever be that way. They have democracy and instead want to place their own vision of minority rule by extortion as the law of the land. They are a menace. They are a threat. The difference between Teabaggers and Terrorists is that you can negotiate with Terrorists. I refuse to negotiate in any way whatsoever with mindless Teabaggers.

      October 8, 2013 at 2:14 am | Reply
  5. GHDFGH56456

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    October 4, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  6. cleareye1

    What could be historic is a move by about a dozen thinking Republicans to abandon their party in favor of defending their honor by joining the Democrats to disembowel the tea party loons. They could return the the GOP after the dust has settled.

    October 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  7. lord toronaga

    WE do respect it. You just don't understand it. It's all about voting and technicalities. You lost. Better compromise. Ha Ha

    October 5, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  8. lord Kubota

    Can we hear more from the left on what the Republicans should do ???? Please... You are soooo fascinating.

    October 5, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  9. Muin

    Still America's both party policians are better people as politicians even compared to its neighboring country Canada. They are much decent people than neighboring country Canada and way better than developing country politicians. Canada's federal govt. retroactively canceled millions of immigrants application by creating new law. Quebec govt. also followed the same path and Quebec's new elected also started ethnic cleansing through regulation. Seriously America is really not that bad. There is no better choice in the world than America regardless of its minor flaws.

    October 6, 2013 at 5:37 am | Reply
  10. Memphis

    Love Fareed's show. The checkbox example for the Affordable Health Care Act though wasn't a strong argument...... 'Congress approved it, the president signed it and supreme court upheld it'. Then why has Obama destroyed that process by not implementing exactly what was approved? Instead he's set aside parts of the legislation and given many exemptions to cronies in government and to the businesses supporting political campaigns. The House Republicans are voicing the frustration that real americans have about corruption in government.

    October 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  11. K John

    Thank you Fareed, for bearing witness . We hear you. Your show is hugely influential.

    October 6, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  12. Traveling Man

    This dispute should be solved within Congress. John Boehner is requesting leadership from the President. Guess what, John Boehner ought to be a leader. Harry Reid ought to be a leader. When Boehner blames the President, he is forgetting his own position, which actually should involve leadership.

    October 7, 2013 at 8:38 am | Reply
  13. Profile Of A Typical Republican That Posts Here

    1. Thinks republicans are conservatives.
    2. Makes less than $100,000/yr.
    3. Net worth less than $200,000.
    4. Primary residence is on wheels or blocks.
    5. Probably retired and depending on SS and Medicare (or will be the person most likely to need SS & Medicare).
    6. Thinks they are religious but they should read the book, "How NOT To Be A Republican" (a.k.a. The Bible).
    7. Actually thinks republicans represent THEM!!

    October 7, 2013 at 10:05 am | Reply
    • xtcx

      1. Fiscaly conservative as far as how much free money is given away
      2. -make that
      3. -more than that
      4. -solid fondation in non flood area
      5. -Unfortunately late 20s, not retiring any time soon
      6. -Religion? We're supposed to be discussing politics.
      7. Repubs representing me is like flipping a coin, least i win half the time. Dems representing me? Never in my interest.

      But I don't claim republican or democrat, or independent, or tea party. I see my self as a libertarian, but i guess that means the closest thing would be a Tea Party Republican.. hmmm

      October 14, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  14. Joseph P. Miceli

    I sent this to Tea party and Boehner this morning via email.Sir,

    Your poor performance as member of the House of Representatives. I consider you un-American and a political terrorist. Get your big boy pants on and do what you are paid for.

    It seems to me that there have been too many occurrences of bickering and infighting among yourselves which has prevented and neglected the country for far too long. The reality that each party member of their respective organization has agenda’s which are personally rewarding either financially or receiving perks or special rewards which are extremely noticeable for even the ordinary person to see. Far too many cases of corruption reported; i.e.… hiding money in refrigerator freezers, Campaign finance fraud and abuse. Miss-management of tax payer contributions. The list goes on and on. Now you shut the government down! “Tea Party”!

    You’re inability to put together the heads of the brightest and best men and women to come up with a decision which has been discussed, voted on, and deemed to be mutually the best decision not merely for party affiliation but for good reason, and just cause to include for the good of the order. Clearly an example of poor leadership on your regard.

    Do what you are paid for or give up your paid dues, or your duties and let someone else govern. I will never be affiliated with your group again. You must really bow to this TED Cruz Ideology.

    Joseph P. Miceli
    5147 East Maranatha Lane
    Hereford, Arizona 85615

    October 7, 2013 at 11:40 am | Reply

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