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Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week,” Newt Gingrich and I debated whether House Republicans in should be able to repeal a law — in this case, the Affordable Care Act — by de-funding it. Here’s the essence:

GINGRICH: Under our constitutional system, going all the way back to Magna Carta in 1215, the people’s house is allowed to say to the king we ain’t giving you money.

REICH: Sorry, under our constitutional system you’re not allowed to risk the entire system of government to get your way.

Had we had more time I would have explained to the former Speaker something he surely already knows: The Affordable Care Act was duly enacted by a majority of both houses of Congress, signed into law by the President, and even upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Constitution of the United States does not allow a majority of the House of Representatives to repeal the law of the land by de-funding it (and threatening to close the entire government, or default on the nation’s full faith and credit, if the Senate and the President don’t come around).

If that were permissible, no law on the books would be safe. A majority of the House could get rid of unemployment insurance, federal aid to education, Social Security, Medicare, or any other law they didn’t like merely by deciding not to fund them.


I believe the Affordable Care Act will prove to be enormously popular with the American public once it’s fully implemented — which is exactly why the Republicans are so intent on bulldozing it before then. If they were sincere about their objections, they’d let Americans try it out — and then, if it didn’t work, decide to repeal it.

The constitutional process for repealing a law — such as Congress and President Clinton did with the old Glass-Steagall Act — is for both houses to enact a new bill that repeals the old, which must then be signed by the President. If the President vetoes it, then the repeal can only go into effect if the veto is overridden by two-thirds of the House and the Senate.

The Republicans who are now running the House of Representatives are pushing a dangerous new constitutional doctrine. They must be stopped. There should be no compromising with fanatics.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, “Inequality for All,” to be released this Friday, September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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6 Responses for “Repealing Laws By Defunding Them”

  1. Bubba for President says:

    Given the repercussions of the last shutdown, go ahead and knock yourselves out.

    Surprising that Gingrich of all people is defending this given the events of 95-96…

  2. Dr. Pullen says:

    I completely agree. The idea that a few determined tea party members who essentially hold their party hostage can put our entire government’s ability to function at risk every time they don’t like an existing law or program is simply intolerable. As responsible Americans we need to vote these fanatics out of office and not allow them to hold us hostage every month or two.

    • Peter1 says:

      “The idea that a few determined tea party members who essentially hold their party hostage can put our entire government’s ability to function at risk every time they don’t like an existing law or program”

      I Corrected your spelling Dr. Pullen:

      “The idea that a few “demented” tea party members who essentially hold their party hostage can put our entire government’s ability to function at risk every time they don’t like an existing law or program”

  3. Jim Carmona says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you Dr. Pullen. The real challenge is getting awareness of the “snake-like”, self-gaining party members out into the public ear. So much media today focuses on events happening yesterday, that current events are actually past events. And by the time people have typically heard about something being voted on–ergo, potentially passed–the bill is too close to already being passed that we must rely on members of both parties to collaborate–something with which we already recognize problems.

  4. arf says:

    “…..The Constitution of the United States does not allow a majority of the House of Representatives to repeal the law of the land by de-funding it…..”

    Silly me, that’s what I thought was called “the power of the purse”, a term I learned in elementary school civics. Though I suppose, strictly speaking, it’s not repealing a law, it’s making the law impossible to implement.

    It’s disingenuous on Reich’s part to imply that Congress has no business attempting such a thing, that’s precisely why Congress was given that power.

    All that being said, it does not mean I support the defunding effort. IMHO, the Right should do precisely what Reich wants.

    Implement the Affordable Care Act, in all it’s forms, at once. I will also add, it should apply to everyone, including Congress, including the unions, including all the people who fought for the ACA, and then fought to have them exempted from the law.

    “I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.”

    ……………….Ulysses Grant

  5. Al says:

    “The Constitution of the United States does not allow a majority of the House of Representatives to repeal the law of the land by de-funding it ”

    I wish Reich would quote the portion of the Constitution that says that for it doesn’t exist. Does he care? Probably not. He calls others fanatics, but it is he and those like him that have no concern for the Constitution.

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