The new Republican-led House of Representatives held a symbolic reading of the U.S. Constitution on the floor of its chamber on day two of the 112th Congress. Afterwards, the House turned to more mundane matters and voted to cut its own operating budget by five percent.
The idea to have members of Congress take turns reading the Constitution of the United States in the chamber came from Republican Representative Robert Goodlatte of Virginia.
"This morning for the time in the history of the House of Representatives, we will read aloud the full text of the Constitution of the United States," said Goodlatte. "We hope this will inspire many more Americans to read the Constitution. The text we are reading today reflects the changes to the document made by the 27 amendments to it. Those portions superceded by amendments will not be read."
The new speaker of the house, John Boehner read the first part. "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
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There was some wrangling before the reading began over exactly which version and which parts would be read. The 222 -year-old document contained language that tacitly condoned slavery before it was amended, and did not give voting rights to women.
Democratic Representative Jesse Jackson of Illinois said that was part of the nation’s history and part of the ongoing struggle for African Americans and women. Civil rights icon and Georgia Representative John Lewis read the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery.
Some political analysts speculated that Republicans’ main motivation was to please the Tea Party activists who helped them win majority control of the House. Tea Party supporters often carry around copies of the Constitution and advocate a very limited role for government and low taxes.
After it became clear the amended version of the Constitution would be read, Democratic lawmakers joined in the reading, making it a bipartisan event.
New Speaker Boehner quickly got down to business, though, and said the House has already passed new rules to change the way it does business.
"Gone are the days when the bills will be written in the Speaker’s Office and rushed to the floor in a matter of hours," said Boehner. "Gone are the days when the Constitution will be ignored. In this Congress, we are making all bills publicly available online for three days before a vote."
House Republicans have vowed to cut government spending and to try to undo President Barack Obama’s sweeping health-care reform law. As a first step the House voted 410 to 13 to cut its operating budget by five percent.
Incoming Budget Chairman Paul Ryan said there are major philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans on how to govern, and he said House Republicans will offer voters a clear choice for the next election in 2012.
"Hopefully we will give the country a choice of a different future, one where we reclaim the American idea, where we embrace American exceptionalism, where we reject this future of managed decline and we reapply those principles that founded this country, and we show the country a future of a debt-free nation, of a nation with a prosperous growing economy, an opportunity society with a safety net versus a cradle-to-the-grave welfare state," said Ryan.
President Obama is expected to lay out his vision for the country’s future in his State of the Union address later this month.