THE BLOG

Government Shutdown, the Constitution and the Tea Party

10/05/2013 09:02 am ET | Updated Dec 05, 2013

In the early days of our country, it became obvious that the Articles of Confederation was an inadequate governing document. The early leaders had declared our independence and fought the Revolutionary War to rid our country of domination by the King of England and the unreasonable demands of the British government. The Articles provided for a weakened central government with each state retaining its individual rights. Under the Articles, each state had one vote, but the government had no power to enforce what few laws it supposedly had the authority to make. So a Constitutional Convention was called for the purpose of writing a new governing document for our young county.

Long before the Convention met in 1787, there was behind-the-scenes "jockeying," with leaders of various theories of government staking their claims. Although there were many difficult issues to resolve, one overriding controversy almost derailed the Convention before it started. The states with more people contended that they were entitled to more votes in the central government than the states with fewer people, and the states with fewer people were determined to retain the one-vote-per-state arrangement provided by the Articles of Confederation. And in order to avoid an impasse, the two factions reached a compromise.

The Great Compromise, as it was called, stipulated that the power to make laws was given to the Congress of the United States, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each state, regardless of its population, would have two Senators, assuring that the minority would be fairly represented. In the House, however, the number of Representatives each state had was determined by its population--states with more people had more Representatives, and those with fewer people had fewer Representatives. Each side had to give a little to get a little. That is what compromise is all about, and like it or not, compromise is sometimes necessary in order to get anything done.

The Senate has always been considered the "upper house" and was organized as the house in Congress that gives stability to the government. Senators are elected for six-year terms in order to be protected from the spur-of-the-moment whelms of the people, have to be age thirty or older, and to have been a citizen for nine years or more. House members, on the other hand, in order to be more connected to the people and what they have on their minds at the time, have to stand for election or re-election every two years, have to be only age twenty-five or older, and to have been a citizen for only seven years. All bills, to become laws, must be passed by both the Senate and the House--neither can make a law without the other agreeing.

Although the House of Representative is considered to be the "lower house" of congress, the Constitution gives to the House the exclusive power to originate all money bills. Keeping in mind that the Founding Fathers gave members of the House two-year terms so they would be more sensitive to the immediate needs of the people, it is appropriate that spending bills for things people want done, or to prevent spending money for things they don't want done, should originate in the House. Remembering, however, that the Founding Fathers set the terms for Senators at six years in order to protect against immediate whelms that may not be wise in the long run, it is appropriate for all spending bills also to need the approval of the Senate.

Elections have consequences. People are elected to office to fulfill their responsibilities to the particular office they are elected to, regardless of what level of government--local or federal. Members of the House of Representatives are elected to represent the people of their respective Congressional Districts. They have a responsibility to bring to the fore the immediate concerns of their constituents--and that includes those elected representing what is called the Tea Party.

Tea Party members in Congress are getting a bad rap. They are correct in standing up for the principles they believe in. Their constituents knew where they stood on issues before they were elected, and now these duly elected Tea Party members of the House not only have the right, but the responsibility, to stand up for the issues that got them elected. The Tea Party members are actually fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities--not acting irresponsibly as so many people claim--by bringing to the fore the concerns of the people who elected them, even if those concerns may be in the minority. At the same time they need to be willing to make some compromises along the way.

Likewise, members of the Senate and the President should to come to the negotiating table, expecting to make some compromises, regardless of how strongly they feel about the issues.

All of our duly elected officials in Washington and their flunkies need to remember that they are in office in part because of the Great Compromise of 1787. Responsible compromise is necessary for our form of government to work. It's been that way since the writing of our Constitution.

One of the amazing things about our Constitution is that the Constitutional Convention was convened on May 25 and adjourned on September 17--only one hundred sixteen days--not quite four months to write the Constitution of the United States of America. The members of Congress at that time did not spend their time grandstanding for their constituents and posturing for as many sound bites as possible; they kept their heads down and worked. They let what they actually accomplished speak to the people who had voted for them.