General Welfare. Seems simple enough, right? These two words are the words that have been so perverted by evil men, together they are responsible for the death of the US Constitution.
Okay, if not death, our beloved document is certainly on life support.
The federal budget this year is some $3.7 Trillion. That is a LOT. Here’s some perspective. If I count to 1 Billion, it would take me 31 years. If I count to 3.7 Trillion, it would take me over 117,000 years.
Okay, so the Obama budget is $3.7 Trillion. This budget includes all kinds of things, from roads to studies about animal life, to grants for different science projects, money funneled to states for child lunch programs, student loans, and on and on. Massive departments like the Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Department of Energy, all consume hundreds of billions – trillions – of dollars. And all this profligate spending is done without regard to the Constitution.
All of this spending is illegal.
Congress gets its power to tax and spend from Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution. Here’s a refresher on what it says:
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”
If you read it closely, you’ll see that Congress is only authorized to spend money on two things: common defense, and general welfare.
The problem is that the words “general welfare” have been etymologically raped.
During the ratification process and well into the nineteenth century, there was an active debate about what the words “general welfare” meant. Two basic interpretations emerged.
First, Alexander Hamilton believed that the word “general” meant that whatever Congress spent money on, must be for general use; that is, apply to the entire country. Remember, Hamilton, though instrumental in getting the Constitution ratified, had many views that worked against federalism. He was much more inclined to give power to the federal government. The Hamiltonian interpretation would allow for a good deal of spending, but it must meet the test of country-wide benefit. This test would be administered by the Congress. Smell trouble brewing?
Second, James Madison believed that the enumerated powers delegated in the Constitution actually meant something. To Madison “general welfare” must be interpreted in the context of the rest of the Constitution. To Madison, “general welfare,” is welfare only in terms of that which is enumerated and allowed for in the Constitution, which isn’t much.
For most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Madisonian interpretation prevailed. Mounds of legislation and many Supreme Court cases were vetoed and ruled against based on Madison’s view that Congress was not allowed to spend on internal improvements or other micro-economic functions, no matter how well-intentioned. Particularly Madison himself and Andrew Jackson used the veto pen liberally. Road funding, Universities, river dredging projects and countless others were all vetoed because they were prohibited by the Constitution.
In 1817 President Madison vetoed a bill that would have provided for a federal highway system, including bridges, tolls and all that make up such a system. The veto was because “general welfare” did not include such items – these expenditures were to be left to the States vis a vis the 10th Amendment.
In the 1830’s Andrew Jackson vetoed all kinds of legislation that would have used federal monies to build roads, bridges, fund companies to do the work, establish banks – all on the grounds that this was not accommodated by “general welfare.” But some projects did make it through on the Hamiltonian view. There were port projects and some road improvements that were deemed necessary to provide for the welfare of the country at large, and therefore permissible. Still, these expenditures were few and far between.
In an orgy of spending, FDR began the destruction of the Constitution. Among some of the items that he signed into law were the Social Security Act, Federal Housing Administration, Home Owner’s Loan Corporation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Money poured from the treasury in amounts so vast, it could scarcely be accounted for, much less fought on constitutional grounds. To their credit, the Supreme Court did manage to strike down a couple unconstitutional pieces of legislation, Roosevelt’s attempt to stack the court notwithstanding. But not nearly enough was prevented.
None of the programs and departments established during the New Deal were Constitutional.
Yet, they were left to fester anyway. A weak judiciary and a corrupt Congress paved the way for more of the same from future generations all the way to modern times. A recent study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) revealed that federal spending is not only out of control, but in many cases redundant dozens of times over. Here is a tiny glimpse into the findings: (h/t to Spectator.org)
- The U.S. government has 15 different agencies overseeing food-safety laws
- More than 20 separate programs to help the homeless and 80 programs for economic development
- There are 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality
- 80 programs to help disadvantaged people with transportation
- 47 programs for job training and employment
- 56 programs to help people understand finances
- 18 federal programs spent a combined $62.5 billion in 2008 on food and nutrition assistance
- Five divisions within the Department of Transportation account for 100 different programs that fund things like highways, rail projects and safety programs
- 59 Defense Department hospitals and hundreds of clinics that could benefit from consolidating administrative, management and clinical functions
- There are numerous redundancies in the military’s purchase of tactical wheeled vehicles and procurement
General Welfare. Two words that killed the Constitution.
James Madison once said, “With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
Indeed, the Constitution has undergone a metamorphosis. We no longer live in the Constitutional Republic that was founded in 1787.
The question remains if there are enough liberty-loving Americans who want it back.