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.
We read about general welfare repeatedly in the Constitution, and I don’t think the Fathers were talking about welfare like we understand the word today. The Fathers meant that government should promote liberty and facilitate prosperity. They went so far as to enumerate the specific powers of Congress in Article 1, Section 8. Under the Constitution, the only powers that the Congress has are in those articles. For those of you unfamiliar with that section, a brief summary is in order. Feel free to go to the original text if you doubt this summary.
Congress has the power to: 1. Lay and collect taxes in order to pay the debts and provide for the “common Defense” and “general Welfare” of the nation, 2. Borrow money on the credit of the United States, 3. Regulate commerce, 4. Establish rules for citizenship, 5. Establish bankruptcy laws, 6. Coin and regulate the value of money, 7. Standardize weights and measures, 8. Punish counterfeiting of U.S. securities and coins, 9. Establish post offices and post roads, 10. Pass copyright and patent laws, 11. Establish federal courts, 12. Punish crimes on the high seas, 13. Declare war, 14. Raise and finance the armed forces, 15. Establish rules for organizing, arming and disciplining the armed forces, 16. Call up state militias to execute the laws of the nation, suppress insurrections and repel invasions, 17. Administer the seat of government, 18. Administer federal lands, and 19. Make all laws that shall be necessary and proper for execution of the foregoing powers (so-called implied powers).
However, clarification was needed to limit the power of the Government. In Amendment X we read:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Justice Marshall went on to say in 1819 that:
“The federal government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers… The principle, that it can exercise only the powers granted to it…is now universally admitted.”
So, in this brief reading or our Constitution, we see that the powers of Congress are limited to certain enumerated items, and all other powers are reserved to the States, or the People. Yet, Congress continues to make laws outside of the enumerated scope of their power. And We, the People, allow them to do it. Maybe our ignorance of the law is an excuse, but the ignorance of the Congress surely isn’t an excuse, because they have sworn a solemn oath. Lets look at it.
The Congressional Oath of Office says:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
The pertinent parts are as follows:
1. Support and defend the Constitution.
2. Bear true faith and allegiance to same
3. Take this obligation freely.
4. Well and faithfully discharge the duties.
Now, you tell me. Name me one Congressman in the past hundred years has truly and faithfully limited himself to the powers enumerated in Article 1, Section 8? Not a damned one. Each and every member of Congress is malfeasant, and has violated his oath of office.
The problem is universal, and the practice is so commonly accepted that we don’t even think about it any more. Lets say, for instance, that Congress sees a problem with the elderly and proposes a package to assist persons …. oh…. over the age of 70. Most of us don’t have a problem with that. Only that it is unconstitutional. Such a law does not promote the general welfare. It promotes the welfare of a specific group of people, and as such, is forbidden to Congress. That power is reserved to the States, or the People.
Another example: Congress finds that children aren't getting proper medical care and that poor children are particularly at risk. They pass a law subsidizing medical care for poverty stricken children. Unconsitutional. That law promotes the welfare of a specific group of people. It does not fall under the general welfare clause and as such, is forbidden to Congress. That power is reserved to the States, or the People.
Congress is as much to blame for our current lack of responsibility in the United States because they, as a body, have shown absolutely no responsibility for the current state of the United States.
The simple fact is this: If Congress proposes any law outside of the powers enumerated in Article 1, Section 8, that law is unconsitutional. Regardless of how much good that law might do, regardless of how many people that law might save. If the law excludes one person from its scope, then that law is plainly unconstitutional because it doesn't provide for the general welfare.
Recently, there has been an uproar over a portion of Congress wanting to limit debate by invoking the Constitutional option. I maintain that most of the legislation passed in the last 100 years, to include Social Security, Medicaire, Medicade, establishing FEMA, all these laws are unconstitutional because they do not promote the general welfare, but promote the welfare of a specific group of people.
FEMA, you say? Yeah, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They are the folks who rush to scenes of natural disasters and make federal money available to persons who lost homes or were devastated. They do untold good for many, many Americans. But the law that created them was unconstitutional. It does not promote the general welfare. Taking care of hurricane victims or tornado victims or earthquake victims is the province of the States, or the People, because Congress is forbidden those powers.
I can hear the uproar now: In that view, practically every piece of social legislation in the past 100 years is unconsititutional. You would undo the good works of thousands of people. Yes, I would. Because the founding law was unconstitutional.
Our system of government is set up with checks and balances. When those checks and balances get out of whack, like they have over the past hundred years, then we must count on responsible people to repair them. However, government is all about power, and if you can weild the federal checkbook, you can stay in power. The Courts have virtually abandoned us to the Congress by failing to rein in the power that the Congress weilds.
There is no responsibility in Congress and there is no responsibility in the Courts. Why should We, the People insist on responsible government? And what part does responsibility play in our daily lives?
Enough for now. There is probably a Part 3. Gimee a day or so.