Politicians are favorite targets for much of what's wrong about America, especially in an election year. And, yes, they are guilty - but just a little bit. They can be blamed mostly for lack of courage, statesmanship and forthrightness. The bulk of the culpability, however, lies with American people - you and me.

We point to Congress for our $5 trillion-plus national debt and a federal budget that's been in the red for 37 con-secutive years. Most of that red ink is driven by entitlement spending, like Medicaid, Medicare, poverty programs and others that claim close to two-thirds of the federal budget. Under no reasonable reading of our Constitution can one find written authority for entitlement programs. But if a congressman were to utter that conclusion, he would kiss his political career goodbye. That's part of our national tragedy: Congressional representatives cannot abide by their oath to uphold the Constitution and simultaneously expect us to re-elect them. Today's Americans see constitutional obedience as extremism, meanness, greed and a lack of compassion.Notice how people in the Dole campaign carefully skirt the issue of entitlements (read: handouts) when they're asked how their proposed 15 percent income-tax cut and capital-gains tax cut will be financed so as not to increase the deficit. They know it's safe to talk about fraud and mismanagement, but it's political suicide to suggest cutting out entitlements (except for welfare mothers). Even the mention of slowing the rate of growth of Medicare or using more reliable inflation statistics for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments can spell political doom. Americans have come to believe our Constitution guarantees them the right to live at the expense of others. The politician who would tell them differently does so at his peril.

Two members of Congress, Rep. Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., and Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., either want to commit political suicide or I'm wrong in tarring all congressmen with the same brush. Pombo and Shadegg have introduced House Resolution 2270, the Enumerated Powers bill. If passed, this law would require Congress to specify the authority under the U.S. Constitution for the enactment of laws it passes. They would have to point to the specific constitutional language. In their "Dear Colleague," Pombo and Shadegg had the courage, perhaps unmitigated gall, to reprint Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, which enumerates the powers of Congress.

James Madison, the father of our Constitution, said, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article in the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the object of benevolence, the money of their constituents." Your basic Harvard or Yale lawyer will tell you Madison and Williams are wrong in their reading of the Constitution: The Framers gave us the "general welfare" and the "commerce" clauses as authority for all that Congress does. If that were the case, the Framers could have spared themselves a lot of contentious debate, during that oppressively hot 1787 Philadelphia summer, simply by writing a Constitution consisting solely of the words: "Congress shall promote the general welfare and control all activities affecting interstate commerce."

For Americans who love entitlements, fret not. Article V provides a means to amend the Constitution. We could enact an amendment that said, "Each American has the right to live at the expense of another American." Then, any entitlement program would be at least constitutional.

If I'm right about Congress, HR 2270 will never pass. Neither congressmen nor their constituents want their actions limited by the Constitution. In the meantime, I fear for the political careers of Pombo and Shadegg.