SABR Matt has requested that I begin outlining my plan for fiscal responsibility at the federal level, and so I shall attempt to do so (though, to be honest, I find such a task rather daunting).
I think the best way to start this series is to talk about the Constitution and the powers it grants to the federal government. Let’s take a look at Article I, Section 8, which lists the powers of the federal Congress:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;–And
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
Let me try to translate: Of the seventeen paragraphs detailing the specific powers of the Congress, seven are concerned with national defense, five are concerned with economic issues (like establishing bankruptcy laws, maintaining a common currency, awarding patents and copyrights, and regulating interstate and international trade), and two deal with the government’s revenue (i.e., its power to tax and borrow money). There are also mentions of the federal government’s power to decide who may become a citizen of the US, to maintain a postal system, to build roads, and to establish lower courts. The proper priorities of the federal government seem pretty clear here: see to our national defense and foreign policy first, then deal with matters of trade.
Of course, because the left is very slippery, especially when it comes to our trade, I think I also need to briefly explain the context in which the 1789 Constitution was written — in other words, I need to explain the why for the economic clauses in particular. Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government did not have the power to establish a consistent currency, nor could it stop the states from passing laws which infringed upon the right of other states to do business. This, as you might expect, created chaos in the US economy, as each state was inclined to look out for her own interests instead of the interests of the entire Confederation. (For example, the states could pass laws favoring their own ports at the expense of ports in other states.) One major intention of the Framers in writing the current Constitution was to ensure that within the boundaries of the US, the laws of doing business were consistent no matter your location. I doubt the Framers intended to give the federal government the power to tell us what we should and should not buy, and I’m pretty sure the Framers never imagined that the federal government would one day become the massive regulatory leviathan it is today.
Still, I’m a practical person. I recognize that we will never be able to completely roll back the federal government’s current regulatory power. As a matter of fact, in certain circumstances, I don’t think we should roll it back. There should be a basic workman’s compensation program in place. There should be some basic environmental regulations. I also believe that “general welfare” does apply to things like disaster relief and, yes, Social Security. Thus, if I were asked to create a list of absolutely non-negotiable responsibilities for the federal government, I think it would look a little something like this:
- Funding our military. There are still people out there who hate us and would like to kill us. Per the Constitution, it is the federal government’s job to make sure that our military remains a robust fighting force.
- Preparing for and responding to disasters. I believe this definitely falls under the heading of national defense.
- Funding our diplomatic corps. Because war really should be our last resort.
- Passing laws to prevent corruption and ensure that all business contracts are honored. This is pretty much a no-brainer. We need to be able to trust each other in order to engage in healthy economic transactions.
- Passing reasonable laws to maintain our air, water, and soil quality and to conserve our natural resources. We do have a responsibility to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy a basically clean environment.
- Passing reasonable laws to prevent the exploitation of workers. I’m certainly no fan of child labor.
- Maintaining a functional interstate transportation system. Our national economy does depend a great deal on the ability to ship freight. ETA on May 4: Upon reflection, I think I’ll add “maintaining other infrastructure” to the list. Sanitation and electricity are also important.
- Establishing some very basic educational standards. I’m not asking for absolute uniformity here, but our national economy also depends upon our ability to read, write, and cipher.
- Maintaining a basic social safety net. We should make sure that our citizens are adequately clothed, housed and fed.
- Passing any other laws which pertain to the specific powers enumerated in the Constitution.
Notice what’s missing here. The federal government does not have a non-negotiable responsibility to financially support our artistic class, for example. That is a luxury, and as such, it should not be treated as a top priority. (Translation: We need to cut the National Endowment for the Arts. If these artists can’t make it on their own or with the help of private patrons, too bad.)
Moreover, even the responsibilities I list above should have their limits. We should pull our military out of Europe, for example, as all we’re doing there is allowing the nations of Europe to ignore their own defense in favor of bloated welfare states; social welfare benefits should never exceed the benefits of a minimum wage job, as we should be incentivizing work, not dependency; retirement ages should be raised for younger Americans to ensure the solvency of Social Security; etc., etc. In the next posts, I will discuss some specific ways we can impose restrictions even on the necessary functions of our federal government.