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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Posts Tagged ‘taxes’

We are the 53%!

Posted by Free to Think on April 18, 2012

Did you pay your income taxes this week? If so, then you’re the half of America that actually pays the cost of the federal government.

Close to half of U.S. households do not owe federal income tax.  The Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center reports that over 46 percent of households owed no federal income tax for 2011. Over a quarter of all American households (27.6%) paid no payroll taxes.

This week The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tried to clarify some “misconceptions” of these startling figures. They point out that households that aren’t paying federal taxes are still paying through the nose for sales taxes, state and local taxes. Yes, but so are the rest of us. As if it should come as a great relief to us, they state, “In 2007, before the economy turned down, 40% of households did not owe federal income tax.  This figure more closely reflects the percentage that do not owe income tax in normal economic times.”

Does that sound much more reasonable to you?

As the price of government swells, just six-tenths of Americans are expected to shoulder the cost of federal roads, entitlements, education, Medicare, the military, the salaries of every federal worker from the post office janitor to the President of the United States, billions of dollars in interest on the public debt, and every other expense of federal government. We are the 60%!

It is frightening to think that fewer and fewer American taxpayers are expected to pay for an exponentially expanding federal government. The portion of the private sector that is actually producing wealth is expected to subsidize 144 million people who aren’t contributing to federal income taxes, and then have enough money left over to pay for the goods and services that keep our economy going.

This has not historically been the case. According to the Tax Foundation, since 1950 the percentage of Americans who didn’t pay federal income taxes has risen dramatically. Until the mid-1980’s, the percentage of tax returns with zero liability averaged in the teens to low twenties, occasionally spiking to the mid-twenty percent mark. In 1986 the figure was 18.5%, where it began a steady rise ever since.

Where does the majority of out federal tax dollars come from? In the latest report by the Tax Foundation, the top 5% of taxpayers paid approximately 58.7% of federal individual income taxes. The tippy-top of the scale, the top .01% of taxpayers contributed  17.1% of the nation’s income taxes. The average income for a tax return in the top 0.1 percent was $4.4 million in 2009, while the average amount of income tax paid was $1.07 million, indicating an average effective individual income tax rate of 24.3%.

There’s been a lot of discussion about who is paying their fair share and who isn’t. But regardless of your definition of “fair,” the most fair thing of all would be for every American to be unencumbered from an excessive and wasteful federal government.

Posted in Debt, Politics, taxes | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tolls or hidden taxes?

Posted by Free to Think on January 18, 2012

Yet another example of government using underhanded methods to ‘tax’ us without raising taxes:  the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority now faces default after the state passed legislation to divert $450 million of toll revenue a year to non-Turnpike purposes.

In an effort to find yet another way to fund its burgeoning government, in 2007 Pennsylvania passed Act 44, which turns toll charges from a user fee into another general tax.

The money is being siphoned from the PA Turnpike despite the fact that the Turnpike Authority is currently losing $170 million a year before making their Act 44 payouts. The Turnpike, which collects about $900 million in annual revenue, is obligated to make payments for 46 more years.

Act 44 is just one reason why Turnpike Authority debt was increased from $2.9 billion to $7.3 billion, a near-triple increase over the past four years. Interest on escalating debt has shot up from $70 million a year in 2007 to $290 million a year in 2011.

“I don’t think it can continue for six more years,” said PA Auditor General Jack Wagner of the turnpike’s ability to continue covering the financial burden. “The statistics show clearly that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is drowning in debt due to burdens placed on it by Act 44.”

“The turnpike is not facing any immediate financial crisis,” insists Turnpike commission CEO Roger Nutt, although he says he agrees with the auditor general that, “Act 44 funding may have a negative effect on turnpike traffic, toll rates, customer service and other traveler benefits sometime in the future,” and that toll increases would be necessary to meet obligations to pay the state.

Just so we’re clear, Nutt believes that it’s no problem for PA Turnpike drivers to settle for reduced customer service and benefits while being laden with a hidden tax to help pay for unrelated commitments that the state is straining to meet. All while Turnpike commissioners dismiss concerns about their own growing debt.

Similarly, in neighboring New York a steep toll increase on the bridges and tunnels that cross the Hudson River and increases in single-fare rides on PATH trains have been imposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in part to subsidize non-transportation projects such as the World Trade Center project.

But now, the New York and northern New Jersey chapters of the AAA automobile club have filed a lawsuit challenging the toll increases, contending that the increases are “illegal and void.” The suit seeks to forbid the authority to set future tolls that include the cost of the World Trade Center redevelopment.

Michael F. Fitzgerald, a lawyer for the auto club, said that such actions violated federal law and the commerce clause of the Constitution by requiring drivers to subsidize a project from which they would not benefit.

Lawyers for the Port Authority said that the club had no standing to sue the agency. Port Authority officials have refined their position, saying all the added toll revenue would go toward transportation.

The New York Port Authority, where toll collectors often make more than $80,000 a year, is no stranger to bungling mismanagement. One toll taker, Warren Stevens, made over $102,000 in 2011 — $40,614 of it in overtime. At least 11 Port Authority gardeners also made over $80,000 last year.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey have called for an audit of the Port Authority.

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies, Ground Zero, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why We Won’t Pick the Best Candidate Today.

Posted by Free to Think on November 2, 2010

We would all like to be proud of voting today. We would all like to vote wisely.

I don’t think that’s possible.

We’ve been warned that the future of our democracy will be shaped by whichever party we elect to office.

I disagree.

I believe that in today’s climate it’s impossible to make a truly informed decision about candidates. But I also believe it matters less where a representative stands personally on particular issues than how much they respect the Constitution and the rights of the individual.

 

Why can’t we make a well-informed decision?

We can’t point our fingers solely at the lazy voters who don’t take the time to find out more about candidates. Those of us who try to stay informed usually find that it’s nearly impossible to discover hard details about where candidates stand on issues. In a recent Hartford Courant article, columnist Rick Green explains that “voting isn’t necessarily about the issues, it’s about emotions, first impressions and whether the candidate could be a leader you want to follow.” This shouldn’t be the case. But even those who take the time to watch debates or go to candidates’ websites find them filled with fuzzy rhetoric and finger pointing at the other guy.

In today’s day and age, we shouldn’t need to take anyone’s word- each and every claim made by or about sitting politicians, candidates and their opponents can easily be documented by evidence on their website or on media websites.

While there are plenty of lobbyists protecting the interests of big business, us regular citizens don’t have a staff dedicated to keeping the government from encroaching on our liberties or our wages. Maintaining a free republic requires constant vigilance, and we as a society have not been attentive enough. The media should be the natural guardian of the people’s rights, but shallow political scandals have gotten the most readership, and most of the media seems to have little interest in digging into the hard issues of unrestrained government.

 

Why doesn’t it matter which party is in power?

Two years ago the people thought they could vote out the status quo. But their attempt at “change” amounted to deepening the existing problems of our wasteful, bloated, overreaching government. “Throw out the bums!” is a tempting solution, but it won’t help if you just replace them with other bums. Countless political candidates have paid lip service to turning things around, but nearly without fail, they end up perpetuating the system once they are in office.

I don’t really think our representatives in Washington are villains. I think the mess that we’re in has evolved from incremental exacerbation of bad practices, such as sticking earmarks into unrelated bills, and not reading bills thoroughly before passing them into law. The prevailing attitude of the legislative and executive branches has been that they’re our leaders rather than our representatives. This gives them the hubris to believe that their agenda is more important than protecting the integrity of the American government.

The thing is, when you can vote yourself money and power, it’s not too difficult to convince yourself that you’re pet project is worth taking just a few more tax dollars or curtailing some minor individual rights. When you’re a “Leader,” it’s easy to pass bills for a few more programs and a few more laws in order to create whatever utopian situation you happen to see fit. Over time, the causes our “Leaders” want to champion and the money they require to do so overshadows their role as the voice of the American principles of liberty.

We’ve lost sight of the original checks and balances in our Constitution, designed to protect the rights of the people and prevent the expansion of government’s mandates upon us. The role of our representatives is meant to be drastically limited by their constitutional responsibilities.

 

Solutions

It’s in the best interest of candidates to be deliberately vague about their intentions. There’s less for voters to disagree with when a candidate’s platform is simply filled with  hazy promises such as “helping the middle class,”  “cutting waste” and “making responsible fiscal decisions.”  This also gives politicians more leeway to vote however they wish once in office. But if we aren’t completely clear as to what they stand for, why should we voters give them our trust?

Our nation has difficult issues at hand to resolve. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, we all must admit that lowering taxes, expanding programs and reducing the deficit cannot happen simultaneously. We can no longer afford our government, and the people drowning in inefficient government and bloated debt. It’s time to be frank about the hard choices that need to be made.

Republicans have campaigned on pledges to dramatically cut spending, but haven’t offered many details. Are they a better bet than Democrats? Obama has said deficit reduction will be a priority in 2011, but precisely how he intends to succeed at that while continuing to grow federal entitlement programs is pretty baffling to me.

We should be able to get specific details about each candidate’s agendas so we don’t have to guess or hope about their intentions. It doesn’t take a PhD to understand that big government requires big dollars. If you claim that you’re going to protect and grow entitlements, stimulus and services, let us know where you’re going to get the money. How much are you willing to borrow? How do you intend to pay it back? If you need to raise taxes, whose taxes will be raised and by how much? What concrete evidence are you using to back up your numbers?

But if I had a chance to ask every candidate one question, it would be this: do you believe in the constitutional limitations of American government?

You may wonder why candidates would disclose this information, when some of it is sure to alienate voters. But they’d have to do so if the public demanded it. They’d do so if hard-nosed reporters wouldn’t settle for anything less than direct answers to specific questions.

If responsible government became our priority.

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies, election, Intrusive government, obama, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Should We Heed The Tea Party?

Posted by Free to Think on October 27, 2010

Is the Tea Party the Answer?

Americans have long been trained to believe that any political group outside the established two-party system are crackpots espousing extreme positions. Some members of the “Tea Party” haven’t done much to dispel that notion. Yet on the other hand, if you think like me, many of the Tea Party messages resonate with common sense.

Endorsing the Tea Party isn’t cut and dried, since the “party” is really just a hodge-podge of groups throughout the country without a defined spokesperson or a standard platform. The Tea Party can mean different things to different people. Because of this, there are some very commendable ‘Tea Party’ candidates in the November elections, while there are others who also champion nationalist, evangelistic, or other ideas that stray from the basic Tea Party ideas of Constitutionalism.

But, the Tea Party has served a significant purpose, bringing to the forefront vital issues that had been continually swept under the rug by the establishment. As a rule, they advocate levelheaded reforms that would help make this country more fiscally sound and take inordinate power out of the hands of the few.

Opponents may cast them as radical, but as Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint states, Tea Party platforms are merely “common sense ideas of let’s don’t bankrupt our country.”

Generally these proposals include:

  • balancing the budget by matching federal expenditures with revenue (i.e. living within our means)
  • an end to raising taxes, printing and borrowing money to fuel an ever-growing federal bureaucracy
  • downsizing our government by restoring limited-government constitutionalism
  • ending the practice of wasteful earmarks, which allows Congressmen to add costly provisions for their district or pet projects to unrelated bills
  • establishing congressional term limits
  • ensuring that congressional bills are concise enough to be read and understood in full before they’re voted upon.

Will America listen?

The biggest problem with this agenda is that, obviously, the government would have a lot less money to spend. Politicians are smart enough to realize that slashing programs, even if they’re unconstitutional and unaffordable, won’t be easy. Every program, subsidy and service is relied upon by someone and, as it’s been demonstrated recently in Europe, those someones will be headed angrily to the streets if their programs are cut.

There’s no dispute that voters today are frustrated and disgruntled.  But Americans have been taught to ask for it all— big government programs and services along with low taxes and small government debt; free market prosperity along with micro-managing government regulations.  It’s easier to tell voters that you’re able to provide everything rather than admit that money and governmental jurisdiction is not limitless.

More than 43 cents of every dollar Washington spent last year was borrowed. The size and scale of today’s federal government is unprecedented: current nondefense spending (relative to GDP) is the highest level in U.S. history. In 2008 presidential candidate Barak Obama harshly criticized President Bush’s $300 billion average annual deficit. Yet Obama’s proposed budget will run a deficit averaging $600 billion even after the economy recovers and the troops return home from Iraq.

Government scope is expanding out of control, and our elected representatives routinely pass massive, wasteful and unconstitutional bills without even knowing what’s in them. Whether you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican, this is a daunting message to digest. Most Americans have enough on their personal plates to deal with, who wants to think about the tough choices we must make in the face of the exponential rise in costs of all of our federal programs?

But deal with them we must, one way or another. The Tea Party has been successful at exposing these issues, but without continued public pressure to rectify them, the Demo-Republican machine is not going to change. Why would it? Typically, politicians aren’t eager to cede their own power, cut their own budgets, or lose the ability to promise everything to everyone as often as possible.

Does it really matter which party we vote for next month?

Perhaps more importantly than who wins the upcoming elections, is the message that we should be sending to our representatives: if they don’t follow through with reform they’ll get booted from office. It’s up to the American public to keep pressure on our politicians so that the trend of corrupted practices and expanding government does not continue.

So which candidates are serious about reform? It’s difficult to tell. Perhaps the establishment’s greatest weapon is to jump on the “responsibility” bandwagon, vaguely echoing Tea Party messages without any details on exactly how they intend to go about this.

Here are headlines from some of the recent mailings I received from both Democratic and Republican candidates, including incumbents:

“Stop Wasteful Spending and Higher Taxes”

“Elect a Different Kind of Senator”

“Our Independent Voice”

“Because more of the same never fixed anything”

“It is Time for a New Beginning”

“I’ll wake up every morning to help employers hire again and to stop the reckless overspending.”

Yes, I’m sure they all sound familiar. Suddenly, everyone is claiming that they’ve seen the light and have become fiscally responsible. The Tea Party presence is definitely being felt.

Now what we need are politicians brave enough to be brutally frank, and a public willing to listen to realistic messages. There are tradeoffs we must face: if we want to pay for all the programs and services that are tending to us cradle to grave then we must be willing to relinquish most of our wages to the government. Or are we willing to rethink what we are “entitled to” from the government, and what powers the government is entitled to possess, in order to trim our government and restore the fiscal health of our nation?

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Common Sense about American Debt

Posted by Free to Think on May 12, 2010

This isn’t just the fault of a President, past or current. It isn’t only the fault of one political party. The real culprit is general shortsightedness and a lack of respect for the American Constitution.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

Isn’t there a way to prevent too much government spending?

In the earlier part of our American history, politicians recognized Ben Franklin’s fear and were vigilant to defend against government costs and the growth of power.

During his two terms as President in the late 1800s, Grover Cleveland vetoed hundreds of congressional spending bills because, as he often wrote, “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.”

Our federal government was supposed to be limited by the law of the land to certain responsibilities. American citizens such as you and I know that if we choose not to follow the law, we’ll be fined or jailed. But our public servants don’t play by the same rules.

In the modern era, the Supreme Court rarely declares laws unconstitutional even if the power to impose that federal law or program wasn’t delegated to the government in the Constitution. As described in my previous post, this course of action began during the FDR administration, when the Constitution’s General Welfare Clause was construed to uphold all New Deal programs.

A bit of history…

In a landmark 1936 decision, the Supreme Court dismissed the notion of limited government by ruling that the Agricultural Adjustment Act was constitutional. The court’s interpretation of the spending authority of Congress was fateful: “The power of Congress to authorize appropriations of public money for public purposes is not limited by the grants of legislative power found in the Constitution.”

Solicitor general and Pennsylvania Rep. James M. Beck likened the effect of this decision to the Titanic’s tragic collision with the iceberg. “After the collision,” wrote Beck, “which was hardly felt by the steamer at the time, the great liner seemed to be intact and unhurt, and continued to move. But a death wound had been inflicted under the surface of the water, which poured into the hold of the steamer so swiftly that in a few hours the great ship was sunk.”

When income tax was first invoked in 1913, it was meant for only the very richest citizens, less than 1 percent of the population. But World War I greatly increased the need for revenue; the 1917 the federal budget was almost equal to the total budget for the years between 1791 and 1916 combined. Still, only 5 percent of the population qualified for income tax at the time, which funded one-third of the war.

During the New Deal era, the threshold was dropped so that the number of Americans obligated to pay income tax rose to 31%. Even with an economy stimulated by war-time production, federal taxes as a share of GDP grew from 7.6 percent in 1941 to 20.4 percent in 1945.

The thing is, taxation has never declined from that “emergency” 20% level, even during the economic boom times in the second half of the 20th century. But the much bigger problem is that even 20% of the GNP will barely put a dent in our commitments going forward.

What are the repercussions for America?

Our government spends much more than we have. The national debt has soared under the administrations of both parties. On top of it, we need to borrow more every year. Imagine if you ran your own home this way.

This debt can also be considered the ‘taxation without representation’ of our children and grandchildren. The child pictured above didn’t get to vote for borrowing trillions of dollars. But someday she will be saddled with paying for it or will go to jail for tax evasion.

Just 12% of our budget goes towards interest today. We are making no effort to pay down a penny of the debt we owe- we’re just making the minimum payments, even though interest rates are currently at record lows. As you can see from the chart below (click for a larger view) interest will soon begin to soar (in red).

If we continue down the road we’re on, entitlement programs alone will eat up every tax dollar that’s collected (and that’s without considering the new health care plan!). There’s no denying that at this rate it’s simply impossible to keep up with all the programs we’ve created.

Not only do we redistribute massive amounts of wealth from one citizen to another, but we dole out money that doesn’t even exist. How do we do that? Well, besides borrowing, the government pays off their obligations by simply printing more money. This in turn devalues the dollar for everyone. One must wonder how that affects the General Welfare of our citizens.

Who’s paying for it?

Are we all contributing to pay for this immense government? The Tax Foundation estimates that some 60% of American families already get more from the government than they pay in taxes. That straps the entire burden on just 40% of taxpayers. Increasing taxes on wealthier citizens is always the first proposition, but that too has its limits. The top 10% of earners already pay more than 70% of the income taxes.

What can we do?

How far has our political thought process strayed from constitutional government? When was the last time you heard a politician object to a bill by saying, “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution”?

When was the last time you heard a politician say, “We must live within our means, even if that means cutting back worthwhile programs” or “instead of promising you new or bigger programs, I promise to slash government spending until we can balance our budget”?

Especially with an ever-growing segment of dependent voters, one must wonder if speeches such as these would be political suicide. As Franklin had so aptly feared, it’s easier for Americans to vote themselves more money than make hard choices about the future of our nation. It would take a brave political leader to acknowledge this message, and an even braver audience to accept it.

Perhaps it’s time we look in the mirror. Across the country, limited-government organizations have been rapidly gaining popularity. You can find the links for some of these groups in the blogroll on my page. Finding responsible candidates within our two major political parties is difficult, but you can find some here. As American citizens, shouldn’t supporting organizations who want to downsize our government, and voting for candidates who want responsible government be at the top of our priorities?

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Why Can’t We Afford Our Government?

Posted by Free to Think on April 30, 2010

In honor of all those who recently finished scrambling to finish those tax returns, my next few articles will explore the expenses of government.

This year “Tax Freedom Day” was officially April 9. Though if you want to be more precise, click here to see how many days you had to work in your specific state just to pay all your local, state and federal taxes. New Jersey? Sorry, you had to keep working until April 25. Connecticut? Two days beyond that. When was Tax Freedom Day 100 years ago? January 19.

Why does it take so much to sustain the U.S. government?

Americans will spend more on taxes than on clothing, food, and shelter combined. Despite this, our federal government is currently $12 trillion in debt and heading for $20 trillion in a decade. It seems that no matter how much we pay in taxes, it’s never enough.

It wasn’t always the case. Between 1900 and 2000, the cost of federal, state, and local government increased from 11% of the Gross National Product to 50%.

Why does the government need so much money these days?

Of course we need money to pay for roads, infrastructure, law enforcement, military and all the costs associated with running the government. But the vast majority of our taxes support:

  • the bailouts of banks, corporations, labor unions and homeowners in trouble
  • the expanding wars on drugs and poverty
  • insolvent health and senior entitlement programs
  • a post office that can’t keep its head above water
  • a military spread too thin by an agenda that envelops much more than defense
  • a growing number of espionage and security agencies
  • lavish pension plans and benefits for members of Congress and public workers
  • thousands of costly special-interest projects politicians pass to benefit their local constituents.

How did we get in this predicament? Why can we no longer afford our own government?

Let’s focus on the federal government. The role of Congress is spelled out very specifically in our Constitution in Article 1, Section 8:

  • to levy and collect taxes
  • coin money and regulate its value
  • establish post offices and roads
  • issue patents
  • define and punish piracies, felonies and counterfeiting
  • declare war
  • raise, support and regulate armies, navy and militia
  • regulate commerce with foreign nations, the states, and Indian tribes
  • establish a uniform rules and laws on naturalization and bankruptcies
  • and to make laws necessary to properly execute these powers.

As specified by the Constitution, the duties of the President, as head of the Executive branch, military commander-in-chief and chief diplomat, are to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” He can also

  • grant pardons,
  • make foreign treaties and,
  • with the consent of the Senate, nominate Supreme Court justices, and appoint ambassadors and other “ministers.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the 10th Amendment stipulates that “the powers not granted to the national government…are reserved to the states or the people.” (Incidentally, that includes schools and education. ) In other words, according to the Constitution, no matter how compelling the cause, the federal government simply does not have the jurisdiction to tax people or pass laws on matters not specifically granted to them.

Wait, but then how has the federal government grown so dramatically in scope?

The federal government established in 1776 was focused on being a protector of individual rights. Checks and balances were designed by our Founding Fathers to restrain its power, and keep it from becoming a dictatorship like the one from which they had just wrested free.

However, the Civil War brought new power to the federal government by establishing its supremacy over the states. It was now evident that our individual states were not voluntarily united, but bound by threat of war to follow the will of the federal government.

As the 20th century dawned, Americans began seeking more from their government than “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They also wanted the government to enhance the economic well-being of society. To this end, in 1913 the 16th Amendment, permitting a federal income tax, was ratified to wide popular support.

Prior to this enactment, Congress’s power to spend was held in check by its limited power to tax. Now, special interest groups sprang up, demanding programs to support their causes.

The third major event to weaken protections against an expanding federal government was Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda during the Great Depression. Of course FDR and his Congress were required to prove the constitutionality of any new program they funded. But they found an avenue through which to do so by exploiting the “general welfare” clause of the constitution.

The ‘General Welfare’ clause

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises to pay the debts, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare of the United States.”

In the 1930s the courts interpreted this phrase to mean that Congress could spend money for any purpose, whether an enumerated power or not, as long as legislators deem it to be in “the general welfare of the United States.” Thus, the small clause became carte blanche for congressional spending.

This debate is nothing new. Back in 1798, Thomas Jefferson was already concerned that the general welfare clause might be perverted. To clarify its meaning he wrote: “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.” Later, he also wrote, “To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his father has acquired too much, in order to spare to others who (or whose fathers) have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, ‘to guarantee to everyone a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.’”

In the early years of the American government, even expenditures for the most charitable of purposes were routinely considered illegitimate. In 1794, James Madison wrote disapprovingly of a $15,000 appropriation for French refugees: “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

Two years later, House Representative William Giles of Virginia condemned a relief measure for fire-victims, insisting that it was not the purpose nor the right of Congress to “attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require.”

In 1827, during Colonel Davy Crockett’s first term in the House of Representatives, a $10,000 relief bill for the widow of a naval officer was proposed. In opposition Crockett stated, “We must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not attempt to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.”

Were Jefferson, Madison, Crockett, and other lawmakers of their time hardhearted and uncharitable?

Of course not. They simply felt honor bound to uphold the Constitutional safeguards against excessive government. ‘General welfare’ was interpreted to mean that taxpayer dollars could only be used for purposes that were in the general welfare of all Americans collectively. They understood that the number of just, meaningful causes were infinite, and believed no politicians had authority to take money from one and determine which group was most worthy of it. Maintaining limited government protected against exploding costs, regulations and government intrusion. Citizens themselves were best qualified to choose which charitable institutions and private organizations that they felt best aided the disadvantaged, and individual states had “the powers not granted to the national government,” so could pass laws and regulations most suited their own constituents.

In 1932, Charles Warren, a former assistant attorney general, wrote a popular book entitled Congress as Santa Claus. “If a law to donate aid to any farmer or cattleman who has had poor crops or lost his cattle comes within the meaning of the phrase `to provide for the General Welfare of the United States,’ ” he argued, “why should not similar gifts be made to grocers, shopkeepers, miners, and other businessmen who have made losses through financial depression, or to wage earners out of employment? Why is not their prosperity equally within the purview of the General Welfare?”

Prophetic words. Today (before Obama’s health care plan kicks in), over half of our tax dollars go towards “entitlement programs” such as social security, welfare and health programs. Congress has also granted itself authority to pay farmers to not grow crops, bail out corporations, impose wage and price controls, subsidize numerous industries, run the railroad, influence monetary and credit conditions, and regulate nearly every type of business. We have Cash for Clunkers, No Child Left Behind, and countless other well-meaning programs with unintended consequences. We support  38 “Czars” and their staffs including an Auto Recovery Czar, a Faith-Based Czar, and a Weatherization Czar (not to be confused with our Climate Czar or our Global Warming Czar).

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D- Md.) asserts that the General Welfare Clause empowers Congress to order Americans to buy health insurance, adding that Congress has “broad authority” to force Americans to purchase other things as well, as long as it’s trying to promote the “general welfare.”

Is it possible that our wise Founding Fathers, who so cherished liberty and so feared government oppression, would have included a clause in our Constitution permitting Congress infinite and unrestrained power?

The very inconvenient truth is that the boundless power of our federal government is bankrupting its own nation and stripping freedom from its citizens.

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