"We’re Article One."
That’s what former Speaker of the House Jim Wright liked to say. Wright was talking about the place of Congress in the Constitution: It comes first in the document, right after the preamble. Jim Wright, who was not a bashful man, believed placement was prerogative in constitutional law; Congress came first because the Framers saw it as primus inter pares, as the first among the co-equal branches, the main driver of our national experiment in representative democracy simply because it was closest to the people. Wright was right; that’s a standard scholarly reading of the document, as well.
Jim Wright’s institutional claims come to mind in the wake of the ridiculous flap over what kind of government plane the current Speaker of the House should be able to fly. By now, you surely know the story (or should, if you’ve been following my ABC colleague Jake Tapper’s excellent coverage of it): Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California is now the leading constitutional officer of Congress–i.e., she’s Speaker. Second in the line of succession to the presidency. She’s a Democrat. She’s a woman. She’s a liberal. Her predecessor was Rep. Denny Hastert of Illinois. He’s a Republican. He’s a man. He’s a conservative.
After the 9/11 attacks, Speaker Hastert was, for security reasons, given "shuttle service" by Pelosi military transport to and from his congressional district in Illinois. This year, citing the same security concerns, the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives asked the Department of Defense to provide a plane that could get Speaker Pelosi to and from her district in California–which would require a bigger and costlier plane than Hastert used.
What did the Bush administration do? Leak the story–to The Washington Times, a kind of house organ for conservatives in the capital. And sit back and watch the flap.
This is hardly bipartisan comity between the branches of our government. Moreover, it seems downright disrespectful. Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker. Deal with it. If security requires the constitutional officer of Congress to fly military transport to and from her district, then fly her. The Sergeant at Arms requested "non-stop flights, unless such an aircraft is unavailable." Seems eminently reasonable. BUT–and here’s complaint (or perhaps the fake complaint, given how much GOP lawmakers have used military transport over the past several years)–it will cost more. Perhaps a few million dollars a year more.
The federal budget will soon exceed $2.9 trillion. The "burn rate" of the war in Iraq is more than $8 billion a month. $12 billion in cash vanished into thin air in Iraq. The Capitol Visitors Center is $335 million over budget. And Congress is Article I.
Do the math.