We have discussed several issues lately concerning government and specific roles that it plays in our lives, but all of this has left me thinking, “What is the actual role of government?” So, today I’m starting a mini-series blog on the powers of government. In order to answer that question, we need to go back to ninth grade Civics class for a lesson. The United States of America is a constitutional republic (not a democracy as is often misunderstood). The powers given to the government are given and limited by the Constitution. So, in order to know what the role of government is, we need to go back to the Constitution to determine which powers it gives and which powers it limits.
The Preamble of the Constitution sets up the powers in:
“…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”
So, in that text, we see 5 points of power:
- Establish Justice – law
- Insure domestic tranquility – peace in the country’s borders
- Defense – protect from invasion
- General welfare – well-being of the citizens (notice this does not say social welfare as many want to interpret)
- Liberty – ensure freedoms and protect from tyranny
The Constitution then goes on to specify the powers it grants and those that it limits. Today, I want to talk about the legislative branch of government, which means the House of Representatives and the Senate (aka Congress). The legislative branch is commonly known to “make the laws.” Specifically, Article I, Section 8 sets up those powers for Congress (we will discuss the other 2 branches of government in a future post). From this, we see that Congress gives numerous provisions including collecting taxes, borrowing money, making money, declaring war, etc. (see  in sources for full text). Nowhere in Article I do we find any powers to set up social security, healthcare, and many of the other welfare state functions that Congress has taken upon itself in the past century or so. Interestingly enough, the Bill of Rights of the Constitution specifically addresses powers that are not explicitly granted to Congress in the Constitution with the Tenth Amendment.
“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.”
Congress has taken the liberty to increase its governance to extremely broad terms. This infinite interpretation of the congressional powers has increased spending on programs by an alarming amount. While many of these programs sound like a great program and may even accomplish a lot of good in the country, these social programs implemented by and paid for through congressional action is beyond the powers given to it. For example, the social programs implemented in the early and middle 20th century accounted for a little over 23 percent of the overall US budget in 1962. Today, that number has grown well above 63 percent of the overall budget (63.3 percent when last recorded in 2011 – with the increase in the welfare system under President Obama, that number has to be significantly higher now).
What this all boils down to is that issues related to welfare, healthcare, and other social services are not powers given to Congress but, instead, are powers that they took upon themselves to make. These assumed powers are costing the taxpayers trillions of dollars each year, and they are going largely unchecked.
I know of many noble, worthy causes and programs that have been funded by the government’s increasing focus on social programs. While I will not go into specifics on individual programs, many of them will be completely sufficient with a reduction in budget or even the elimination of federal funding. A majority of them are 501(c) non-profit organizations that have the ability to attract donations with tax-deductions. I believe that the American people have a desire to fund these types organizations and, when presented with a need, would be more than willing to step up and fill that need. Telethons across the country have reached goals of millions of dollars in a single day. Present the American people with a just cause, and watch it obtain funding for the next year or more every time.
In the meantime, let’s get government back to what it was originally intended to do and away from becoming what our Founding Fathers never envisioned.
Jason – Three Patriots