When is an action of the U.S. government constitutional?

One of the more common dialogs I hear between Ron Paul and members of the press goes like this:

Journalist: Representative Paul, what do you think about <<insert a government action here>>.

Ron Paul: Well…when I take out my copy of the Constitution, I look at the powers granted to Congress by the people as listed in Article One, Section Eight, and if I don’t see it there I don’t think much about it because I’m not allowed to do it.

You can read the entirety of Article One, Section Eight in three minutes.  To guarantee that all bills considered by, and all laws enacted by Congress are constitutional, I think the following process should be followed:

  1. At the opening of all sessions of Congress, the House Parliamentarian shall read Article One, Section Eight to the House and the Senate Parliamentarian shall do likewise for the Senate.
  2. When a Bill is announced, the Parliamentarian shall announce whether or not the Congress has been granted the power to make legislation in that area.  If the power has not been granted under Article One, Section Eight, the Parliamentarian shall inform the author or authors of the bill that the rules governing Congress do not permit them to proceed.  At that point, if any member of congress attempts to promote that bill, he or she shall be escorted out of the building by the Sergeant of Arms and placed in stocks for four hours.
  3. A group of volunteers shall be stationed outside of the House or Senate buildings armed with eggs and tomatoes donated by the public.  They shall, from a distance of nine yards, pelt the public servant in the stocks with the eggs and tomatoes.
  4.  As an added bonus, people wishing to volunteer for this duty must buy a $100 dollar lottery ticket for a chance at the privilege of enforcing the Constitution.  When Congress is in session, 25 lucky Americans will be able to stand watch outside of each houses for a four-hour shift with shifts rotating at midday.  That will pay off the national debt in about 18 months.

Here is Article One, Section Eight:

  • The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
  • To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
  • To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
  • To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
  • To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
  • To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
  • To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
  • To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
  • To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
  • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  • To provide and maintain a Navy;
  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
  • To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
  • To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;–And
  • To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof    

So why is this so freaking complicated?