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My view: Understanding the Constitution is different than knowing it

By Scott Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah citizens should thank senior Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, for seeing the danger and voting to resolve the controversy. He certainly earned the title of “statesman” in this case.

Jacquelyn Martin, AP

After a great deal of unnecessary turmoil, the nation is back on track again — at least until January or February.

Utah citizens should thank senior Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, for seeing the danger and voting to resolve the controversy. He certainly earned the title of “statesman” in this case.

On the other hand, Utah’s junior senator, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, failed at every point to grasp the seriousness of the situation. He stubbornly insisted on standing by his so-called “principles” while the Constitution, the economy and the nation teetered on the brink of disaster. It’s one thing to know the words in the Constitution; it’s another thing to understand what they mean. The inspired Constitution provides a framework for resolving the nation’s problems, not a flimsy excuse for making those problems worse.

Surely, the founders who wrote the Constitution did not contemplate having a small group of ideologues shut down the government because they could not get their way. And, surely, the founders did not believe the budget-making power of Congress would ever be used to threaten the lawmaking power of that same Congress simply because Congress passed a law that a few lawmakers find disagreeable. And, surely, the Constitution offers clear procedures about resolving differences over specific laws or over specific provisions within those laws. Those procedures do not contemplate shutting down the government, putting government employees on furlough and denying American citizens the services of their own government.

Sen. Hatch obviously understands these constitutional principles. Sen. Lee apparently does not.

On a related issue, Sen. Lee joined a small group trying to subvert the Constitution by forcing the government to ignore legally acquired debts. Apparently, the senator rejects Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which says: “The validity of the public debt of the United States ... shall not be questioned.” Mr. Lee not only questioned the validity of the debt but tried to stop payment on that debt.

A freshman congressperson such as Mr. Lee can be forgiven a certain naïvete about how Congress and the Constitution work. But there is a difference between being naïve and being ignorant. It appears that if Mr. Lee had listened a little more attentively to Utah’s experienced senator, Mr. Hatch, he might have avoided the embarrassment of freshman mistakes.

Sadly, Congress did not provide rational, long-term solutions for the issues in question — government funding and government debt. Instead, our representatives chose to simply “kick the can down the road.” Both issues will trouble this great nation early in the coming year unless we see more statesmanship at the nation’s capitol.

Our remarkable Constitution prescribes the means for correcting laws we don’t like and for making sure the national debt is handled sensibly. The nation suffers when lawmakers rely more on political posturing than on guidance from the Constitution.

Scott N. Howell is the former Utah State Senate minority leader and a U.S. Senate candidate.

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