Rep. Scott Garrett, who represents the 5th CD in New Jersey, has been criticized recently because he and other Republicans want every bill to cite the specific constitutional authority before Congress passes any legislation.
The critics, from a Star Ledger editorial to left-wing think tank analysts to constitutional “scholars,” assert that the constitution gives the federal government broad powers to provide for the “general welfare of the United States,” and that the Commerce Clause gives the feds virtually unlimited power to regulate the economy for the benefit of the people. In other words, the U.S. Constitution does not place any restraint on spending, taxation and regulation. This is a disingenuous assertion.
Did the Founders really create a crypto-socialist nation that the Supreme Court affirmed in its rulings for the past 200 years? This is the worst form of historical constitutional revisionism.
For example, the Supreme Court ruled, in 1895, that the federal income tax was unconstitutional because it was not apportioned among the states. The solution? Amending the constitution (16th amendment) giving the federal government the authority to levy an income directly on the people. When the Prohibitionists wanted to ban the manufacture and sale of liquor, lawmakers realized the constitution did not authorize the federal government this power. Hence, the constitution was amended (18th amendment) giving the federal government the power to make America “dry.”
Since the 1930s, when the Supreme Court was initially declaring most of FDR’s New Deal legislation unconstitutional and then shifted gears affirming most of the president’s (after FDR threatened to “pack” the Court) egregious big government agenda, we have been living in a post-constitutional America, where there is no virtually no restraint on the federal government’s power.
Although leftists allegedly support civil liberties, free speech rights and other constraints on government power, they worship the welfare state more than they do property rights and free enterprise, the essential ingredients for prosperity. Scratch the surface of most leftists and you will find pro-authoritarians who want unlimited government power to collectivize the economy.
Rep. Garrett has right. The constitution is supposed to restrain government actions and power. If collectivists want the federal government to engage in activities not specifically authorized by the constitution, they should have the decency to do what previous power hungry Americans did, amend the constitution. In the meantime, new laws should be based on a correct reading of the constitution. If the constitution does not authorize a specific spending program, it cannot be implemented. The people of New Jersey would benefit enormously from a constitutional America.
Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at the Anisfield School of Business, Ramapo College of New Jersey. He blogs at www.MurraySabrin.com.