While discussing the recently passed health-care reform legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked where in the Constitution the Congress derives or is granted the power to do what they were attempting. Her response speaks volumes about the current breed of public leaders we have in Washington. She infamously and incredulously responded, “Are you serious? Are you serious?”
The United States is a country of laws, and the primary codex upon which those laws are founded are embodied in the Constitution. That document clearly explicates and delineates the minimal authority of a central or federal government, and whatever rights of government not identified in the Constitution were reserved unto the states or the citizens collectively. That’s very clear, one would think. Yet over the past 230 years our central government has unilaterally enacted much more power over us than the Constitution ever granted them.
The case could be strongly made that our government at all levels is operating outside the parameters of the Constitution. This flagrant abuse of power is at the base of nearly all of our nations’ current problems, including taxation, deficits, massive federal debt, moribund economic growth, high unemployment, etc. ad nauseam.
Where does Congress get the money it so freely dispenses and appropriates around the world? Speaker Pelosi might think, as the political cartoon showed the other day, that such money, along with jobs, comes from the “stork who brings them on a government funded jet.” But that would be inaccurate. Rather, for Congress to give one dollar to any individual, it has to forcibly through the tax code, take that dollar from another. As Dr. Walter E. Williams, economics professor at George Mason University clarifies, “Forcibly using one person to serve another is one way to describe slavery. As such, it violates self-ownership and is immoral,” as well as unconstitutional.
We all know that it’s a good idea to grant assistance to people out of work, or to provide financial help to the underprivileged, or to rebuild nations that we declare war on. But where does the Constitution grant authority to enact good ideas?
I’m sure there are some who are crying out while reading this that it is the government’s job to do these things. I would ask, as the CNS News reporter asked Pelosi, “Where in the Constitution is that authority granted?” After all, what is the oath taken by our elected leaders when they’re sworn into office? As Dr. Williams asks, “Is that oath to uphold and defend good ideas or the U.S. Constitution?”
Colonel Davy Crockett, while serving as a member of Congress, once spoke in opposition to a bill to grant financial support to the widow of a military hero. Said he at the time, “Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.” What Congressman Crockett recognized as a constitutional, legal as well as moral limitation of government, and the fiduciary responsibility of government for the interest of the people, is no longer found in the Beltway.
In 1794 when Congress appropriated $15,000 to help some refugees, James Madison declared on the floor of the House, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Obviously Mr. Madison understood the moral and fiduciary role congress is supposed to fulfill.
He went on, seemingly in answer to those who would say the section in the Constitution that says to “promote the general welfare” of the country is where that authority comes from. In response to the unspoken question, he continued, “If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one.”
And clearly we have an indefinite one now. Congress has for years ignored the precise limitations of power enumerated in our Constitution, and vote for “good ideas” rather than what is legal and constitutional. What we need now is a whole new mindset in Washington, Boise, and even city hall, where elected leaders acknowledge the fiduciary responsibility they hold for us collectively, and spend not for “every good idea” that comes around, but for those that are legal at their respective levels of governance. As the Deficit Reduction Commission illustrated, it’s painful to turn back the clock on spending, yet that is precisely what we must do.
If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to the full-feed RSS.