BOBBY HARRISON: Legislature wasted time and money on symbolic debate

JACKSON – While legislators were unable to agree on a budget to fund state government last week, both the House and Senate spent about two hours debating resolutions in support of the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
For those who cannot remember, the 10th Amendment simply says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The resolutions bemoaned the fact that the federal government was assuming too much authority reserved for the states.
The federal stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this year is an example of federal overreaching, some say.
A majority of both chambers voted for the resolutions, though they still have not made it through the labyrinth known as the legislative process.
My question is, will the same legislators who supported the resolutions – one in the House and the other in the Senate – stick to their principles and vote to reject the state budget if it contains federal funds specifically federal stimulus money?
The answer, of course, is no. Legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Haley Barbour are relying heavily on literally hundreds of millions in federal stimulus funds to plug budget holds in education, from kindergarten to higher education, and in Medicaid.
Yet, there are 10th Amendment purists who question whether the federal government should be involved in issues like education.
During debate of the resolution, Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, questioned whether the federal government should be sending education dollars to the states.
House Rules Committee Chairman Joe Warren, D-Mount Olive, who allowed the proposal to reach the floor of the House, cited Social Security as a program that might be beyond the scope of the federal government under the 10th Amendment. He then quickly added he supports Social Security.
Supporters of the resolutions, in both the House and Senate, say the federal government has overreached its authority. Opponents say the resolutions are meant as a slap at President Obama.
In Mississippi, the debate over state’s rights or state sovereignty has special connotations because those phrases became the clarion call for Mississippi elected officials opposed to integration efforts in the 1950s, ‘60s and beyond.
Supporters of the resolution say that is not their intent.
Regardless, it is ironic that the issue and those resolutions came to the forefront after the election of an African-American president.
Still, there is no doubt that the debate over the powers of the federal government versus those of the states is a worthy one.
But there might be a question of whether it was worthy of the House and Senate to spend two hours debating resolutions that are nothing other than symbolic during a time when legislators came back to the Capitol for the specific purpose of passing a budget.
Or course, a day after taking up the resolutions, the Legislature recessed again – unable to agree on a budget. It should be stressed that members cannot agree not because they don’t want those nasty federal stimulus funds, but because there is not enough to plug all the shortfalls.
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant defended the debate of the resolutions, saying budget negotiators were working while the resolutions were being debated.
If the members had not been debating the resolutions, he said they would have been sitting around waiting for a budget compromise. But there was another option. The Legislature debated the resolutions Thursday afternoon and came back the following day to take up stuff they did not get to the day before.
If not for the resolutions, they could have finished that afternoon, recessed and saved the state one day in expense payments for 174 members.

Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Bobby Harrison at bharrison@djournal.com or at (601) 353-3119.

 

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