When Republicans in Georgia talk about asserting the Tenth Amendment, I tend to roll my eyes. It’s not because I disagree with that sentiment, but because I know (as I’m sure you do) it’s empty, meaningless rhetoric that will only go so far until the desire for funding for the next pork project is needed. And that is the point of Jay Bookman’s column today over at the AJC:
That proper division of powers between state and federal authorities will be a recurring theme in the 2011 General Assembly as well. Republican leaders in Georgia, including Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, say they are intent on reasserting the rightful, constitutional role of states against an overly intrusive federal government.
In case you’re not getting the message, Republicans are serious about the Constitution. Unlike the Democrats, who treat the nation’s founding document as a mere series of suggestions, Republicans see the Constitution as sacred writ to be followed as originally intended.
Except, not really. Not when put to the test.
For example, the top priority of Georgia’s political and business establishment in the upcoming Congress is to acquire at least $400 million in federal funds to deepen Savannah’s port. With bigger cargo ships coming on line by 2015, the project is critical to expanding Georgia’s role in global shipping. State Republican leaders take the project so seriously that they have even recruited Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to serve as an emissary to the Obama administration to help get the project funded.
But strictly interpreted, the Constitution does not allow the federal government to spend money on such projects, a fact that was a recurring feature of political debate in the early days of our republic.
In 1822, for example, President James Monroe vetoed a bill funding road construction and repair. The Constitution, he wrote, gives the federal government no authority to fund such “internal improvements,” which instead were traditionally funded by states or private investors.
In other words, if deepening the Savannah River is as important to Georgia as our state leaders claim — and it probably is — then a strict, Madisonian reading of the Constitution requires that the taxpayers of Georgia pay for the project.
You can read the full text of Madison’s veto message to the Bonus Bill of 1817 here.
There is no doubt that Bookman is being snarky here, but he is proving an important point – one that I’ve raised in the past.
While Republicans legislators pander to grassroots by passing non-binding resolutions asserting the Tenth Amendment and caucus rules to recite the pledge of allegiance to the state flag, they’re still going to look for federal money for pork projects. Oh, but they will file suit against ObamaCare. While I don’t disagree with that, some consistency would be nice.