Sequester has Rep. Rob Bishop, Rambler agreeing to disagree

Feb 11 2013 - 11:11pm


My column Thursday said Rep. Rob Bishop was right. The next day I got a call from Rob telling me all the ways I was wrong.

Some days you can't win, but Rob made good points so, to be fair, I thought I'd discuss them here.

My column agreed with Rob's piece in Wednesday's paper that the coming sequester of federal funds -- a mandatory slashing -- is bad.

Rob opposes sequestration, but a lot of folks in his party favor it. While sympathizing, I nit-picked over how he described the size of the Navy and criticized him because he only complained about how the sequester will hurt the military.

That latter critique is where Rob took me to task. Read the U.S. Constitution, he said.

Rob interprets the Constitution tightly. He believes in federalism, which says the federal government should only do those things the Constitution specifically tells it to.

The rest should be left to the states, which he says is what the 10th Amendment -- "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" -- demands.

Rob told me the federal government is too big and the fate of the nation hangs in the balance if we don't bring back federalism. Rob founded the 10th Amendment Task Force to work for shifting federal programs back to the states.

What specific responsibilities does the Constitution delegate to the federal government?

The only one listed, Rob said, is defense, in Article 1, Section 8. There's no mention of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Education or any of that other stuff.

So Rob only talked about cuts to the military -- which he insists has already been cut too much -- because the Constitution says that's all he's supposed to talk about.

The second thing I hit Rob on was his contention that we need more defense spending because our Navy is "smaller than it was in 1917."

I said comparing numbers from 1917 and now is meaningless. Rob told me I missed his point.

The Navy needs to be bigger, not to compete with Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet, but to compete with potential enemies today. They use the same technology we use, he said, so we need to outnumber them.

That makes more sense, but Rob did not change my mind with his Constitutional argument.

Article 1, Section 8 in the Constitution, which Rob cites, doesn't just say "defense." It says Congress shall "provide for the common defense and general welfare."

What's general welfare?

It's how we're all doing. That's why Article 1, Section 8 also contains the Commerce Clause, which gives the federal government a key role in making the nation's interstate commerce work smoothly.

Most of Rob's predecessors in Congress, plus past presidents and Supreme Courts, have taken a broader view of the federal role in promoting general welfare than Rob does. The Department of Agriculture, to pick one, was started under President Lincoln, who called it "The People's Department." It has a huge impact on the welfare of people in Rob's district.

A federal land grant program begun by Lincoln established Utah State University. USU extension agents helped farmers make Box Elder and Cache the breadbasket of Utah.

Federal crop insurance, milk price supports and other programs protect Utah farmers today. Cutting their funding will hurt Utahns just as much as cutting military funding, if not more.

Rob is entitled to his opinions, but I still feel he's wrong to only talk about cutting the military. "General welfare" covers a lot more, and the Constitution says he's supposed to be looking out for that, too.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can contact him at 801-625-4232 or e-mail him at He also blogs at

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