Newsletter Aug 26, 2010
The General Welfare of the United States
During the month of August, Congress takes a break. I am using this time to hold town halls across our state. Click to view schedule.
Earlier this month, I shared my concerns regarding Elena Kagan’s expansive view of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. It has been used to justify many of the more egregious abuses of power by Congress.
Big government supporters in both political parties also have another favorite clause in the Constitution, the “General Welfare” clause. Article 1, Section 8 reads: “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.”
"[The Founders] knew the natural tendency of men to consolidate power for themselves, and in so doing, jeopardize all our freedoms."
To those who believe government has all the answers, this reads like a blank check to do whatever necessary to provide for that “general welfare.” That view, however, represents a gross ignorance of the Founders true intent, or a deliberate abuse of power.
Just read the words of James Madison, a central author of the Constitution and one of its fiercest defenders. In promoting the newly drafted Constitution in Federalist # 41, Madison responded to critics who thought the clause offered unlimited power:
"It has been urged and echoed, that the 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,'' amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction. Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases.
As President, in vetoing a bill sent to him by Congress in 1817, Madison sent an even stronger to warning to all future leaders who saw the “general welfare” clause as a blank check:
“Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms "common defense and general welfare" embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust.”
Through experience, our Founders were acutely aware of the weaknesses of human nature. They knew the natural tendency of men to consolidate power for themselves, and in so doing, jeopardize all our freedoms. Government can grow for all sorts of reasons, many initiatives backed by good intentions. However, when those intentions lead us outside the limits set forth in our Constitution, they diminish individual liberty.
We would wise to view the “general welfare” clause as intended by our Founders, and not in today’s blank check mentality. Our freedoms will be enhanced, and the future for our children and grandchildren will be enriched.
Tom A. Coburn, MD
In The News
Dr. Coburn Continues Town Hall Series in Northeast Oklahoma (Wagoner, Tahlequah, Stilwell, Muskogee, Skiatook, Pawhuska, Sapulpa).
UNDATED -- U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. will be holding a series of town hall meetings in eastern Oklahoma starting later this week. Read more ...
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan vetoed an appropriations bill because it contained 152 earmarks. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, in fiscal year 2009, Congress included 11,286 earmarks in its annual appropriations bills. That averages out to over 20 pork projects per member of Congress.