by Diane Rufino, September 30, 2018
Government programs such as welfare and other social means-tested programs characterize very well the government’s general policy towards poverty: Make individuals “comfortable” in their poverty rather than incentivize them to become self-sufficient. Those dependent on government have little incentive to vote against its interests; those dependent on government have little incentive to vote for fiscal conservatism and for constitutional conservatism.
The premise of this article is three-fold:
(1) To make the argument that government entitlement and other social welfare policies (means-tested programs), rather than serving “the general welfare” and helping to raise people out of poverty, in fact are really just increasingly making individuals “more comfortable” in their poverty, are increasingly relieving them of the “burden” of having to provide for themselves and their families, and in their sum, are creating institutionalized dependency. We see it already, and have seen it for many years now – welfare has become a way of life and not just a temporary program of aid and assistance; even worse, it has become a generational way of life.
(2) Dependency, and certainly institutionalized dependency, by its very nature, puts individuals completely at odds with the notion of freedom. An individual cannot be free and dependent on government at the same time. As more become dependent on government, there is no other course than the destruction of our republic and the transformation to socialism. Socialism is the death blow to individual liberty. The rights of the individual, the property of the individual, the work and production of the individual, becomes subject to the needs and best interests of the collective. Socialism is the death blow to the great American experiment.
(3) Entitlement Programs, like block grants to the States (per “contact agreements”), are Unconstitutional.
A GOVERNMENT OF LIMITED POWERS?
As the title of this article suggests, I intend to address the constitutionality of Welfare and other means-tested social programs. The United States was once a country that prided itself on the ambition, creativity, ingenuity, energy, and production of the American people. Americans worked hard; they provided for themselves and their families. Without the lure of a safety-net, people became creative and ambitious and did whatever they could to make a living and provide for themselves and their family. With people like that, with social pressure like that, is it any wonder that our country was so successful and created such profound wealth? Is it any wonder that people were able to climb the social ladder so quickly and children and grandchildren became more successful than their parents? Is it any wonder why the United States became such an attractive magnet for the impoverished and downtrodden of the world?
But after the era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the United States slowly and steadily became a welfare state, with Lyndon B. Johnson taking the most credit for what our country has become. In 1964, with the Civil Rights bill looming, Johnson said to his political cronies: “These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.”
Well, it did make quite a difference. Rather than help pull African-Americans out of poverty, welfare often doomed them to institutionalized poverty. Rather than help African-Americans overcome the prejudices, discriminations, and actions that held them back in the past, welfare was responsible for the greatest change in community dynamics which would have unfortunate consequences for them – it destroyed the black family. The impact of welfare policies on marriage and family have been dramatic: Out-of-wedlock birthrates have skyrocketed among all demographic groups in the US but most notably among African Americans. In the mid-1960s, the out-of-wedlock birth rate was scarcely 3% for whites, 7.7% for Americans overall, and 24.5% among blacks. By 1976, those figures had risen to nearly 10% for whites, 24.7% for Americans as a whole, and 50.3% for blacks specifically. And today, the numbers stand at 29% for whites, 41% for the nation overall, and 73% for blacks. In other words, thanks to the welfare state, the entire country is moving rapidly in the wrong direction, but blacks in particular have reached a point of veritable catastrophe.
Is welfare constitutional?? I’ll eventually get to that question.
First of all, where does the supposed constitutional authority come from to redistribute wealth in the name of “welfare” or “security”? The usual answer is the “General Welfare” clause of the Constitution. In the opening paragraph of Article I, Section 8 (which delegates to Congress the powers it is legally authorized to exercise), we find the “General Welfare” Clause. We have seen that term previously, of course – in the Preamble to the Constitution. In that opening paragraph of Article I, Section 8, Congress is granted power to tax and spend for the “general welfare of the United States.” From early in our history there were arguments about what sort of spending was truly for the general welfare. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, for instance, argued in 1791 that bounties paid to innovative new manufacturing concerns would qualify as spending for the general welfare. But Hamilton understood that the appropriations had to meet a standard of uniformity throughout the Union. And for decades, Congress and various presidential administrations (mostly Republican) considered whether various “internal improvement” projects could legally constitute spending “for the general welfare.”
The government is not one of unlimited powers. We all know this. The US Constitution, as ratified by the individual states, created a common government of expressly-delegated powers which taken together, provide for some common essential functions (like safety and security, speaking with “one voice” in dealing with foreign nations and the Indian tribes, ensuring that commerce is made “regular,” and providing a uniform system of currency). Its powers were not intended to reach inside the state to regulate or affect the conduct of its citizens.
And yet the Constitution contains a clause that references “the General Welfare.” It’s called the “General Welfare Clause” and its purpose means one thing to big government folks and another to those who hold true to the historical view of the Constitution.
This clause is a special friend of big-government politicians and intellectuals, and an enemy of limited-government folks. It is the catch-all phrase by which the federal government claims the authority to enact so much of its unconstitutional legislation and to carry out so much unconstitutional taxing and spending.
When the federal government wishes to create and expand welfare programs, to meddle in education, to provide grants for certain groups of individuals to attend college, to assist women in aborting their babies, to establish a national healthcare system, to serve the enormous immigration population (including illegals), to provide financial support for refugees, or to coerce the states to increase their drinking age or lower their speed limit, progressives cite the “General Welfare” clause for constitutional authority.
Constitutional conservatives, on the other hand, push back with the argument that the General Welfare Clause is NOT, in fact a grant of power or source of authority.
Which is the correct view? And why is it so important?
THE GENERAL WELFARE CLAUSE:
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution lists the delegated functions of the federal legislative branch (Congress): Its opening paragraph includes the General Welfare Clause:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense 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.
[This last provision is called the “Necessary & Proper” Clause; it is typical language included in contracts at the time making clear that the party delegated a particular function or functions can take the “necessary” steps to carry out that function or those functions.]
FEDERAL SPENDING: IS IT ALL CONSTITUTIONAL?
The federal government spends money, through grants, tuition, other types of “assistance,” etc, to do things it cannot otherwise accomplish through actual constitutional authority. For example, the federal government provides funding to States to build roads, bridges, train tracks, airports, electric grids, libraries, swimming pools, housing, and other infrastructure; it provides funding to educate our children and to require public schools to implement affirmative action and other special programs for minorities and for students with disabilities; it provides funding for pre-school and day care; it provides funding to re-train the unemployed; it provides funding for relief aid; it provides funding for state and local law enforcement; it provides funding for Medicaid, food stamps, free lunch programs, and other social services; it provides funding to aid illegals; and it provides funding to individuals for college tuition, tuition remission, as scholarship awards, for housing, etc.
Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 grants the US government the power to raise and spend money. Is that power limited? Or is it unqualified and unlimited? We all know the government’s view.
The government may believe it is justified under the General Welfare Clause, for example, to provide healthcare for the elderly (or for everyone), to provide old-age pension, to fund public health projects; to invest in and conduct basic research; to provide subsidies for agriculture; to build libraries, and even to provide emergency aid for natural disasters. But under what theory of a “limited government” is Congress justified in taxing and spending for such purposes as building roads, bridges, train tracks, airports, electric grids, libraries, swimming pools, and housing, educating our children, providing pre-school and day care; re-training the unemployed, and bailing out big banks and big industry (such as the auto industry)? The answer is that according to the delegated powers vested in Congress in Article I, Section 8, none of those responsibilities is allowed. “The powers not delegated to the States, nor prohibited to them, are reserved to the States and to the People.” Then Tenth Amendment tells us that all of these objects rightfully belong to the States. While the government assumes the authority to tax and spend for these objects from the General Welfare Clause, it is the Tenth Amendment that supersedes.
The amount spent on such programs is staggering:
First of all, the US Treasury divides all federal spending into three groups: mandatory spending, discretionary spending and interest on debt. Mandatory and discretionary spending account for more than ninety percent of all federal spending, and pay for all of the government services and programs on which many rely. Federal spending for 2015 was broken down as follows: Mandatory spending at 64.4%, Discretionary spending at 29.3%, and Interest on the debt at 6.03%.
Discretionary spending refers to the portion of the budget that is decided by Congress through the annual appropriations process each year. These spending levels are set each year by Congress. In fiscal year 2015, $1.1 trillion out of a total budget of $3.8 trillion was spent on discretionary spending. By far, the biggest category of discretionary spending is spending on the Pentagon and related military programs. Examples of other well-known programs paid for by discretionary spending include the early childhood education program Head Start (included in Housing & Community), Title I grants to disadvantaged schools and Pell grants for low-income college students (Education), other school funding, food assistance for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), training and placement for unemployed people provided by Workforce Investment Boards (in Social Security, Unemployment and Labor), and scientific research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF), among many others.
Mandatory spending is spending that Congress legislates outside of the annual appropriations process, usually less than once a year. Out of a total budget of $3.8 trillion, $2.45 trillion was spend on mandatory spending. It is dominated by the well-known “earned-benefit” programs Social Security and Medicare (that is, people have money taken out of their wages for these programs). It also includes widely used safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and a significant amount of federal spending on transportation, among other things.
Many mandatory programs’ spending levels are determined by eligibility rules. For example, Congress decides to create a program like Social Security. It then sets criteria for determining who is eligible to receive benefits from the program, and benefit levels for people who are eligible. The amount of money spent on Social Security each year is then determined by how many people are eligible and apply for benefits, whether or not they have paid into the program. [Note: Congress does not decide each year to increase or decrease the budget for Social Security or other earned benefit programs. Instead, it periodically reviews the eligibility rules and may change them in order to exclude or include more people, or offer more or less generous benefits to those who are eligible, and therefore change the amount spent on the program].
Mandatory spending makes up nearly two-thirds of the total federal budget. Social Security alone comprises more than 1/3 of mandatory spending and around 23% of the total federal budget. Medicare makes up an additional 23% of mandatory spending and 15% of the total federal budget. [See: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/ ]
The question is: Are these grants and other forms of assistance to the States constitutional? Perhaps such programs as Social Security and Medicare are constitutional, or at least at one time were (that is, when salary deductions for them were still considered a property right), but now they are simply considered another federal tax.
But what about the other programs?? Welfare (for the poor and the generational dependents), education funding, funding for transportation, state grants?
On the government’s website (https://www.grants.gov/learn-grants/grant-policies.html; “A Short History of Federal Grant Policy”), there is this explanation:
Billions of dollars in Federal grants are awarded each year for programs and projects that benefit the public. This assistance is rooted in the Constitution and its call to “promote the general Welfare.”
It wasn’t until the 1970’s, however, that Federal grant policy began to evolve into what it is today. The Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act, passed in 1977, set out to guide government agencies in their use of Federal funds – particularly by defining the roles of contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants. Contracts, the law states, should be awarded when a Federal agency is acquiring something – an improved computer network, for example. Grants and cooperative agreements, meanwhile, should be awarded when a Federal agency is providing assistance, such as funding for a lower-income housing program in an at-risk urban community.
The federal government, by law, has established a grant program (mandatory grants and discretionary grants) whereby it provides funding to the states as a means to further its policies or to coerce conformity among the states on matters it has no actual constitutional authority to legislate. These grants are contractual in nature and so, legally, if the particular state accepts the money, it agrees to the conditions attached to it. It’s a matter of free will. And so the government achieves contractually, and coercively (because money is an attractive carrot) what it cannot achieve constitutionally. It is the means by which the federal government can control and coerce the States; it is the means by which the federal government can achieve an end-run around the Constitution and accomplish unconstitutionally what the Constitution legally does not allow it to accomplish. Federal grants to the states (grants-in-aid) are a primary mechanism that the federal government uses to extend its influence into state and local affairs.
The matter of federal funding and the coercion associated with it was addressed in 1987 with the Supreme Court case South Dakota v. Dole. The case centered on the constitutionality of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which was passed in 1984. Specifically the Supreme court was asked to consider the limitations that the Constitution places on the authority of the US Congress when it uses its authority to influence the individual states in areas of authority normally reserved to the states.
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDAA) withheld 10% of federal highway funding from states that did not maintain a minimum legal drinking age of 21. South Dakota, which allowed 19-year-olds to purchase beer, challenged the law as an abuse of power, naming Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole as the defendant.
The Court, in a 7-2 opinion, upheld the statute’s constitutionality. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, articulated a 5-point rule for considering the constitutionality of expenditure cuts of the type in the NMDAA:
- The spending must promote “the general welfare.”
- The condition must be unambiguous.
- The condition should relate “to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs.”
- The condition imposed on the states must not, in itself, be unconstitutional.
- The condition must not be coercive.
Rehnquist concluded that the NMDAA met the first three restrictions and thus was a constitutional exercise of Congressional authority. Furthermore, he wrote that Congress did not violate the Tenth Amendment because it merely exercised its right to control its spending nor did the statute coerce the states since it cut only a small percentage of federal funding. According to Rehnquist, Congress applied pressure, but not irresistible pressure.
I believe the opinion was a poor exercise of judicial interpretation, and it hurts me to say that considering what a fan I usually am of William Rehnquist.
While contacts are always allowable, the question I ask is whether it is constitutional in the first place for the federal government to collect tax money for the purpose of doing something unconstitutional (even if it is by contract). I think it is an unconstitutional object of the taxing power. The power to coerce through funding is the power to coerce period.
If the federal government can use public funding to extend its authority, why can’t a state government have its citizens withhold federal tax dollars and direct it to itself instead in order to further its state authority under the Tenth Amendment?
Federal grants, put simply, are not only an unconstitutional exercise of the federal taxing and spending power but act to distort and erode the critical balance of government power between the states and the federal government.
SEPARATE GRANT OF POWER OR QUALIFYING PHRASE?
The words “General Welfare” actually create something of a dilemma. Either the founders didn’t really intend to create a general government of limited powers, or the General Welfare clause doesn’t really mean unlimited federal authority to do things beneficial to the nation as a whole. What is it?
The answer, of course is easy. It’s just not the convenient answer for the federal government.
The grant of power to “provide . . . for the general welfare” raises a two–fold question: (1) How may Congress provide for “the general welfare,” and (2) What is “the general welfare” that it is authorized to promote?
The first half of this question was answered by Thomas Jefferson in his opinion (to President George Washington and the First US Congress) on the government’s authority to establish a National Bank as follows: “The laying of taxes is the power, and the general welfare the purpose for which the power is to be exercised. They [Congress] are not to lay taxes ad libitum for any purpose they please; but only to pay the debts or provide for the welfare of the Union. In like manner, they are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose.” The clause, in short, is not an independent grant of power, but a qualification of the taxing power. Although a broader view has been occasionally asserted, and although Congress has acted under that assumption, the Supreme Court has NOT upheld that view.
Let’s start by looking at construction:
The “General Welfare” clause, as one can notice and read, is set off by commas after the delegation of taxing power, for the purpose of clarifying WHAT the taxes collected are to be spent on. The powers enumerated in the following lines go into more specifics as to what Section 8 means when it says “to provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” The fact that the framers followed up the general welfare clause in Article I Sec. 8 with specific enumerated powers indicates the latter – a qualification on federal authority. If they had intended Congress should have the power to do virtually anything and everything to promote the general welfare, they wouldn’t have bothered to include specific powers.
We don’t need to speculate on what the “General Welfare” clause means and we shouldn’t have to take the word of a politically-appointed Supreme Court justice. We only need to look at the explanation provided by the author of the Constitution himself, James Madison.
In a letter to James Robertson, dated April, 20, 1831, Madison makes quite clear that the phrase “for the General Welfare” is not a separate grant of power:
“With respect to the two words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
The General Welfare Clause is not an enlargement clause, authorizing the government to tax and spend to pay the nation’s debts, to provide for the common defense, and to do anything it wants for the general welfare. It is a clarifying clause, serving once again as a reminder the goals of the government. The goals, of course, are stated in the Preamble to the Constitution: “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….”
Again, if our Founding Fathers and drafters of the Constitution had intended Congress should have the power to do virtually anything and everything it wanted in order to promote the general welfare, they wouldn’t have bothered to include specific delegations of power. If the government was intended to be one of unlimited and consolidated powers, what state would have ratified it? The truth is that the Constitution was sold to the States, through written and oral assurances, as one creating a common government of limited powers to serve the States and to carry out their common functions.
James Madison, as I hope everyone knows, was a primary author of The Federalist Essays, which became known as The Federalist Papers. Knowing that of the 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, only 39 signed it at the end (September 17). Some didn’t sign because they had already left explained the convention and several didn’t sign because they could not lend it their support. He also knew that some heavy hitters refused to even attend the convention because of grave suspicions of what the convention might try to do and that they would not support his Constitution in the state ratifying conventions. And in fact, during the ratification debates, Anti-Federalists who opposed the Constitution voiced fears that people would come along and assert that the term “General Welfare” granted unlimited power to the federal government.
Madison, together with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, wrote the Federalist essays (ie, the Federalist Papers) as a means to explain each provision of the Constitution and for the purpose of providing assurances to the States as they contemplated whether to adopt it or not. In particular, the Federalist essays addressed the fears, the skepticism, the concerns of the Anti-Federalists (who had written a series of essays highlighting the defects in the new Constitution). The Federalist Papers, coming from the primary author of the Constitution, the man who called for the Convention, the man who provided the rough draft (rough outline) of the proposed new government), the man who attended each day, the man who took faithful notes of the proceedings and debates, the man who was almost universally perceived as being honest and trustworthy, and the man who most had a stake in seeing the Constitution through to its adoption (since it was his vision to scrap the Articles of Confederation) in favor of a new government), are without a doubt the most important and the primary authority on the meaning and intent of the US Constitution.
With that in mind, Madison addressed the scope of the General Welfare Clause in his Essay No. 41:
For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter.
He went on, in Essay No. 41:
In a more remote stage, the imports may consist in a considerable part of raw materials, which will be wrought into articles for exportation, and will, therefore, require rather the encouragement of bounties, than to be loaded with discouraging duties. A system of government, meant for duration, ought to contemplate these revolutions, and be able to accommodate itself to them. Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power ‘to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,’ amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction. Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms ‘to raise money for the general welfare.’
Again, the Federalist Papers, because of how wrote the essays and for the purpose they were written, are the primary authority on the meaning and intent of the US Constitution.
Madison further illuminated the intended meaning of the General Welfare Clause in a letter written to Edmund Pendleton in 1793, pointing out that the phrase was lifted from the Articles of Confederation and was intended to retain its meaning in the new Constitution.
“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions. It is to be remarked that the phrase out of which this doctrine is elaborated, is copied from the old articles of Confederation, where it was always understood as nothing more than a general caption to the specified powers, and it is a fact that it was preferred in the new instrument for that very reason as less liable than any other to misconstruction.”
According to Madison, “the most important and fundamental question” with respect to the intent and meaning of the Constitution and the design of the government created was the meaning of and the relationship between the General Welfare Clause and the enumeration of particular powers in Article I, Sect. 8. This question, as he explained in Federalist No. 41, is the most “fundamental” because the answer determines the very “idea” or “nature” of the U.S. Constitution. It determines the ambition of the federal government. Legal scholars and commentators virtually agree that the clause was not a separate grant of power but rather a substantive grant of power for the generally-stated end (see the Preamble to the Constitution). They agree that the primary purpose of the ensuing enumeration was to define more particularly the ends alluded to by the phrase “General Welfare.” Hence, the meaning of the general constitutional government in the American federal system is a government oriented to a limited number of limited ends.
I would argue then, that any “taxing and spending” for purposes not permitted under the enumerated powers, and in fact, reserved to the States per the Tenth Amendment, is impermissible and unconstitutional.
But we all know that the States are weak and the Supreme Court, because of its general aversion to cling to a meaning associated with an era long gone, intentionally ignores what our Founders have said and what they have written. They prefer to engage in their progressive way of interpreting the document in order to update it – which is merely a way of saying that they want to ignore the intended restraints on the federal government in order to transfer more and more power to it.
So the words “general welfare” must mean something other than a grant of power for Congress to do whatever it pleased. What exactly did the framers mean?
Two words in the clause hold the key – the words general and common. The phrase simply means that any tax collected must be collected to the benefit of the United States as a whole, not for partial or sectional (i.e. special) interests. The federal government may promote the general welfare, or common good, but it must do so within the scope of the powers delegated and without favoritism.
Let’s look at what the Supreme Court has said:
The Constitution contains two references to “the General Welfare” — one occurring in the Preamble and the other in the Taxing and Spending Clause. The Supreme Court, in the case Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), has held the mention of the clause in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution “has never been regarded as the source of any substantive power conferred on the Government of the United States or on any of its Departments.” Furthermore, the Court has held that the understanding of the General Welfare Clause contained in the Taxing and Spending Clause adheres to the construction given it by Associate Justice Joseph Story in his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States:
“A power to lay taxes for any purposes whatsoever is a general power; a power to lay taxes for certain specified purposes is a limited power. A power to lay taxes for the common defense and general welfare of the United States is not in common sense a general power. It is limited to those objects. It cannot constitutionally transcend them.” [Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, in §919]
Justice Story concluded that the General Welfare Clause is not a grant of general legislative power, but a qualification on the taxing power which includes within it a federal power to spend federal revenues on matters of general interest to the federal government.
The problem with Justice Story’s comment (above) is that the “General Welfare” does NOT mean “General Interest to the federal government.” It means the “general welfare of the American people.” The clause means that the US Congress the power to spend for matters affecting only the national welfare, and not certain groups particularly.
The problem is that the federal government is addicted to taxing; it gives government the ability to carry out its expressly-delegated function and also the ability to carry out functions it has no authority to regulate. The latter it accomplishes by bribery – I mean, it offers the states grant money (in exchange for complying with conditions; conditioned spending).
When challenged on the federal government’s constitutional authority to create welfare programs, meddle in educations, take over public education, offer programs specifically for illegal aliens and Hispanic green-card holders, or run a national healthcare system, progressives will almost always appeal to the “General Welfare Clause.” Because they believe the government SHOULD be handling such tasks, they advance the “all-inclusive” and “all-authoritative” view of the Clause. And who is really willing to challenge this – the greater than 50% of the people who depend on government programs enacted “for the so-called General Welfare”? At some point, there will be so very many people unable to support themselves and provide the substance to take care of themselves and their families and who look to the government that the federal courts are going to have to officially re-interpret the General Welfare Clause to give Congress a blank check to legislate for any reason related to the “general” welfare or to the welfare of any particular group of people. And perhaps that is the reason the government has, over the years, established so many policies designed to get Americans dependent on it for their essentials. Perhaps that is why Democrats in particular, continue to make sure that those on entitlement and other social programs are increasingly more “comfortable” in their poverty rather than pressured to abandon a life of dependency for one of employment and production.
WELFARE: CONSTITUTIONAL or NOT? HOW BETTER TO PROVIDE A SAFETY-NET?
As explained above, I believe any taxiing and spending for objects NOT expressly tasked to the federal government by Article I, Sect. 8, is unconstitutional. There is no provision in the Constitution for (1) Discretionary Spending; (2) Grants and Other Types Assistance, which includes things like grants and scholarships for education, grants to the States (for roads, bridges, airports, ports, railroad tracks, public schools, Medicaid and other dependency programs, healthcare, etc); (3) Education; (4) Universal Healthcare; or (5) Welfare and other government-sponsored public assistance programs. All of these types of spending (although one might argue that for the most part, some are duplicated) allow the government to do the following:
(1) Maintain a high federal taxation rate
(2) Accomplish what the Constitution itself does not allow it to do. (They permit the government to make an end-run around the Constitution)
(3) Control people. A person dependent on government will never vote against its interests.
(4) Exercise control over the States (Most States can’t fund all that the State requires internally and for its people through the money that it raises by state taxation, and that is why they almost reflexively and automatically put their hands out when the federal government offers government assistance)
(5) Apply coercion to the States. (Again, most States can’t fund all that the State requires internally and for its people through the money that it raises by state taxation, and that is why they almost reflexively and automatically put their hands out when the federal government offers government assistance, even though they know that the funds come with strings and often times, it deprives the State of the decisions and options it could have exercised on its own)
(6) Establish uniformity among the States (slowly erasing the borders that distinguish one state and its “politics” from another). Dangling funds in front of a State that is otherwise strapped for funds is coercive pressure (regardless of what judges who sit on a bench in DC say) and usually results in the States accepting the money, agreeing to its conditions, and sacrificing little by little its state autonomy and sovereignty.
In other words, the spending identified above, including funding (grants) to the States and including welfare and other means-tested assistance programs, are unconstitutional.
Healthcare is a social program, plain and simple; it is socialist at its core. Those who the government determines are able to pay their insurance premiums must do so, and in fact, will be burdened with an increase in premiums. Why? Because they are paying not only to cover themselves and their families, but to help cover all those in poverty who can’t afford healthcare on their own. It is a government program based on simple re-distribution of wealth and socialism. One group of individuals suffers a burden while another group receives a hand-out. Both pretty much get the same level of healthcare coverage.
Government, or universal, healthcare is not legitimately covered by the “General Welfare” Clause because the program doesn’t apply equally to everyone. It is a program whereby the government commandeers half the American population to cover (pay) the healthcare insurance premium costs of the other half. One half benefits in every sense of the word while the other half is forced to incur an additional burden.
Welfare, and other means-tested social programs, are other programs based on re-distribution of wealth. Those who work and make enough are required to pay federal income taxes. They work at least 3 months out of the year to pay the government what it requires, which is essentially 30% of their income and a lot more for other types of assets. Those who don’t work or only work a little (and don’t make enough) can go on welfare and can take advantage of other means-tested social programs. They can sit around and wait for their government checks – money that flows directly from those who earn and produce to those who don’t.
These programs are not legitimately covered by the “General Welfare” Clause because frankly, it doesn’t fit the definition of “general welfare.” The opening paragraph of Article I, Sect. 8 means that any tax collected must be collected in order that the government (Congress) can fund all the projects pertaining to the express powers granted to it (ie, the enumerated powers), which collectively are covered by the phrase “for the common defense and to provide for the general welfare.” Welfare and other means-tested social programs do NOT benefit the citizens of the United States as a whole, but rather benefit only a subset of the people. In fact, a good portion of citizens are harmed in order to benefit the others. That hardly seems fair. The Constitution doesn’t empower the US Congress to institutionalize giving and compassion. It only empowers Congress to act in those areas that the States originally agreed to in 1788. [On June 21, 1788 the Constitution became the official governing document of the United States of America when New Hampshire became the ninth of thirteen states to ratify it, per Article VII].
The grants to the States are simply unconstitutional because the federal government, in Article I, Sect. 8, was not delegated the authority to address any of the purposes for which the grants are offered. If the government can simply accomplish through funds (conditional funding) what it can’t accomplish according to the Constitution, then the government is not a limited one but one easily and most likely capable of becoming overly ambitious and controlling. If the government can simply accomplish through funds (conditional funding) what it can’t accomplish according to the Constitution, then our government is not longer “federal” but “national.” And we see that is absolutely true today.
Let’s go back to Welfare (and other means-tested social programs) and look at the inherent unfairness in the program. One group of people exists on welfare and other social programs; their needs and essentials are provided by the government. Since they earn no money, they pay no federal taxes. The other group is self-sufficient and is able to provide for themselves and their families (the way it was supposed to be), and because they are considered “successful,” the government demands that they pay a fairly substantial federal income tax. In fact, all their income, all their property, and all their assets must be diligently disclosed to the IRS. Government, of course, doesn’t provide its own money but rather must obtain it, usually through taxpayer funding. So, the first group, on welfare, is not supported by the government but rather by hard-working tax-paying citizens. One groups pays (heavily) and the other sits back and receives; yet both enjoy the freedoms, the civil rights, and the privileges, as well as the safety and security provided by the United States. But, truth be told, both exist differently and both are not served equally from the government. Here are some differences:
(a) Those on welfare don’t need to work; they don’t even need to get out of bed or get off the couch. They can socialize or they can spend all day with their kids. Those not on welfare must work and must always be concerned that their jobs are secure.
(b) Those on welfare don’t have to worry where their money comes from and don’t have to live check to check for their rent and their grocery bills. They get a check from the government which they can count on. Those not on welfare often live check to check; in fact, they sometimes have to take on a second job or have their spouse go to work to cover bills. (The ironic thing is that those on welfare often tell Health & Human Services Office that there are no jobs, yet those not on welfare often have no problem finding a second job)
(c) Those on welfare get a break in college tuition; there are lots of scholarship and tuition assistance aid to help them; those not on welfare pay more for their children to go to college.
(d) Those on welfare get free healthcare. Those not on welfare have to pay for their own health insurance or make sure they get a job that provides it.
(e) Those on welfare (or those who meet other means-tested criteria) can also get food stamps (to help them buy more nutritious food), assistance for daycare (even though they don’t work), housing assistance, assistance to help cover heat and air-conditioning, etc etc. In other words, over the years, more and more social programs have been created to help make people more comfortable in their poverty. They do NOTHING to help them become independent and self-sufficient, and in fact, do everything to establish the hand-outs as a way of life.
(f) Those on welfare can have all the kids they want, including with as many different men as they want. Sure, they are supposed to disclose the name and contact information of the father of each child to Health & Human Services, but knowing people who have worked with HHS, women aren’t always forthcoming with such information. My mother, who worked for years with the New Hanover County Department of Health & Human Services, used to tell me how frustrating it was to work there and what a scam Welfare is. She told me how mostly black women would come in to the office with two and three and four kids and want their check. She would ask them for the name of the father of the children, and the response would be “I don’t know” or “Just give me my damn check.” She would call for her supervisor and eventually, every single time, they would get their check without giving any information. Those not on welfare have to make a cost-benefit analysis when planning their families. Having children isn’t a scam to them or a money-making scheme. Their concerns are always whether they can afford them and provide a good life for them.
(g) Those on welfare are supposed to continually look for work and report their efforts to HHS, but we know that’s a joke. Most know exactly how to game the system. When those not on welfare need to find a new job, they make an honest and great effort to do so.
(h) Those on welfare can do drugs and abuse alcohol whenever they want and still collect their checks. Those not on welfare must always conduct themselves in a manner to be good and responsible employees; they must show up for work on time, be alert, be productive, not call out excessively, and must be able to pass an on-the-spot drug test.
(i) Those on welfare never have to worry about keeping a record of their expenses, keeping receipts, or hiring an accountant to navigate the federal income tax form. They never have to worry about being audited by the IRS or will never know the absolute fear of getting a certified letter from them. They will never have to worry about having the IRS telling them that they should have paid more in taxes and so, the money they planned to use for a vacation must be turned over immediately. Those not on welfare are slaves to the IRS and to the April 15 deadline to file their taxes.
(j) Those on welfare never have to worry about saying or doing anything on social media or in their private lives that might somehow prevent them from receiving their checks. Those not on welfare, however, must forever be diligent in what they say, how they say it, where they say it, to who they say it, and they must be careful to give the appearance of being neutral on religion and politics and social issues should a co-worker somehow find out or should Human Resources find out. Personal opinions and politics, and activism and association… these once traditional exercises of the First Amendment now can be reason to be fired from a job or to be denied an interview.
(l) Those on welfare automatically get an increase in their living expenses with each additional child. Those not on welfare do not. Those not on welfare (ie, those who have honest employment) cannot game the system and defraud their employer.
(m) Those on welfare can exploit various ways to exploit the entitlement system, including colluding with men to have additional children and splitting the welfare funds.
Welfare and other government hand-out programs offer only one positive benefit: They offer a safety net to those who temporarily are unable to work and provide for themselves and their family. This safety net was intended to be temporary, to provide for the individual while he or she figures out a way to get back on his/her feet and back into the workforce. It was NOT intended to be a way of life. It was NOT intended to be a viable alternative to a career or being a productive member of society. On the other hand, welfare and other government hand-out programs offer many negative effects (many perhaps are unintended consequences), including the following:
- They generate and reward sloth
- They relieve too many young people of the energy they would need to invest in an education or to learn a skill
- They result in a lack of ambition
- They result in an obese population (as someone from New Dehli once explained to his family: “I want to live in America. I want to live in a country where the poor people are obese.” Dinesh D’Souza tells this story)
- They have resulted in, and continue to result in, the destruction of the family unit (welfare contains marriage penalties)
- They have increased, and continue to increase, the level of poverty in our country [Families with an absent father, black and white alike, generally occupy the bottom rung of America’s economic ladder. Regardless of race or ethnicity, the poverty rate for single parents with children is several times higher than the corresponding rate for married couples with children. According to Robert Rector, with the Heritage Foundation, “the absence of marriage increases the frequency of child poverty 700 percent” and thus constitutes the single most reliable predictor of a self-perpetuating underclass. Articulating a similar theme many years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Nothing is so much needed as a secure family life for a people to pull themselves out of poverty”]
- They inspire and encourage too many people to stay on welfare and not look for employment (cost-benefit analysis)
- They perpetuate of ignorance, illiteracy, etc
- They serve as a viable alternative to getting an education
- They reward those who did not take public education seriously nor took any initiative to learn a skill
- They reward women for having children without being married
- They reward women for not cooperating with authorities to identify the father or fathers of their children (in order to have them provide child care)
- They have created generational government dependency (young girls imprint on their mothers and get pregnant without being married in order to be taken care of rather than get educated and work)
- Rather than serve the positive goal of providing a temporary safety-net until the applicant can get back on his or her feet, they have become a permanent means of support. Dependency has become a way of life. (Over the years, more and more social programs have been created to help make people more comfortable in their poverty. They do NOTHING to help them become independent and self-sufficient, and in fact, do everything to establish the hand-outs as a way of life)
- They have resulted in the increase in crime, drug use, and human decay [In agreeing to sign the Civil Rights legislation of 1965, LBJ’s chief objective was to reduce dependency by blacks and put an end to the disproportionately high rate of black poverty. He said he wanted “to break the cycle of poverty” and make “taxpayers out of tax eaters.” He further claimed that his programs would bring to an end the “conditions that breed despair and violence,” those being “ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs”]
- They have ruined whole communities
- They have created a class system in the US (those who are dependent and are takers; and those who are independent and produce).
- They have caused one group of citizens to distrust and to have no respect for another group of people (because many recipients are non-citizens)
- They have caused people to question the legitimacy of the voting system [Is it fair for people living off the government (ie, other people), to have the ability to vote and have a say in how other people’s money is spent? Maybe there should be a progressive voting system like there is a progressive income tax…. Those with more money and assets are taxed at a higher level so maybe their votes should carry greater weight]
To highlight the differences between those on welfare and other social programs with those who provide for themselves one sentence, I would sum it up this way: Those on welfare receive a check without any conditions attached; those not on welfare are subject to.
The federal government has been financing government-provided welfare since the 1930s. Of the more than $1.1 trillion spent in fiscal year 2016, federal expenditures accounted for $829 billion (or 74% of all funding related to welfare programs), and state expenditures accounted for $297 billion (or 26%). Most state spending ($213 billion) is done on one single program – Medicaid. In terms of GDP, welfare alone accounts for 6%. It has risen steadily and quickly in the years after Ronald Reagan left office. During LBJ’s term, welfare spending accounted for 1.5% of GDP; during Carter’s term it more than doubled – to 3.6%; during Reagan’s term, it remained the same and even dipped; but then after he left office, it began to increase quickly and steadily.
Imagine how much each taxpayer could be relieved in his or her federal taxation burden if the federal government taxed only for the spending for which it is constitutionally allowed. Imagine how much each individual State could then tax its citizens. They would be able to raise money on their own to cover internal expenses – the running of the State and the care of its people – and more importantly, they could spend that money AS THEY SEE FIT, and not within the conditions imposed by the federal government. Imagine how, if this financial dependency were ended, the rightful balance between federal and state government power could be better achieved. Taking away the financial power to coerce and control leaves the States in a better position to stand up to the federal government rather than to cower and concede.
As mentioned above, the spending identified above, including funding (grants) to the States and including welfare and other means-tested assistance programs, are unconstitutional. Yet there are citizens who feel passionate and strongly that those who can give up some of their income should do so in order to take care of those who are less fortunate, those who are legitimately disabled (and not like some friends I know who filed for disability because of their obesity), those who work but can’t provide enough for their family (while still continuing to have more and more kids), those who are here illegally and need help providing for their growing families, those who have children without being or getting married (including those who refuse to provide information to the authorities for child-support), those who are crafty at defrauding the system, those who ignored the opportunity to become educated and hence can’t get anything other than a minimum-wage job, and those who simply don’t want to work. I wonder if they feel so passionate and so supportive of these people because they know that it is other people’s hard-earned money that will be used to support them. I wonder if they would feel the same if the money was taken from them, their family, their food allowance, and their recreation fund. I think the only legal way that the federal government can offer welfare and other means-tested assistance programs is if it asks each taxpayer, at the time they file their taxes, if they would be willing to donate additional of their money for the care of the poor. I’m sure many would agree to do so. I’m also sure that such programs would have much less funding which means criteria would be stricter and time restraints would have to be added. The programs would clearly have to be temporary in nature and because of stringent criteria, there would be indirect pressure to get off as soon as possible.
So, let me list out some solutions to the problem of federal discretionary spending, including Welfare and state grants:
(i) My first solution to this out-of-control, unconstitutional-taxing and spending bloated government is for the States to challenge each item of federal spending for constitutionality. For each item that is not constitutional, the federal income tax rate should be reduced accordingly.
(ii) My second solution (and this one is for Welfare only) would be the one outlined in the previous full paragraph (each taxpayer can offer to send additional of their money to the government for welfare programs). Personally, I like this one. This forces people to put up or shut up. It forces people to put their money where their mouth is.
(iii) My third solution is each state to establish a State Escrow Account. (I’ve written an article on this and how it would work). Each State would review the federal budget and determine which items are constitutional or not. It would then adjust the federal budget accordingly. Then it would determine the pro rata share of that budget that North Carolina residents would provide. The state would require all residents to have their federal income tax first reviewed by the State Treasury Department. Only the portion that corresponds to constitutional federal spending would be forwarded to the IRS and the remainder would be deposited in the State Escrow Account. The state would then determine for itself what to do with the escrow funds – either returning it to its residents or applying it to state projects, thus relieving the state of any un-necessary reliance on the federal government and moving the state towards the independence it was intended to have.
(iv) My last solution is to keep welfare and the other means-tested social programs, but to treat them like state grants and attached strict conditions to recipient status. Remember, welfare and other such social entitlement programs are like state grants in that they both are an unconstitutional exercise of the taxing and spending power. Conditions should be attached for two essential reasons: (1) to ensure that recipients can only receive benefits for a LIMITED time (there will need to be time limits); and (2) to make it so burdensome that recipients will want to get off of government assistance as soon as possible, whether that means they will look at marriage and education more favorably or will invest in career training programs or will make sure they do not have further children which may tend to keep them dependent on government aid. Some conditions that should be placed on free government aid (ie, other people’s money) include:
- Mandatory birth control. (No government check without first receiving a monthly birth control shot)
- No increase in the welfare check and no additional funds should the recipient have another child while on public assistance
- Suspension of the right to vote
- Definite earmarks are attached to the funding. Funds can only go towards essential food items, housing, and transportation. Any person on government assistance who can afford a new car will be automatically kicked out of the program
- No free cell phones
- No visits to the nail salon
- No funding for air-conditioning (Lowe’s sells a great $12 fan which works wonders in the heat)
- Mandatory proof of job searches (including signed statements from each employer consulted, including the reason the person could not be considered or interviewed. Job searches will be viewed with extreme scrutiny for potential for fraud and abuse; for example, a person who has a criminal record should not be looking for a job with law enforcement or education, daycare, etc because such jobs expressly require employees to have no criminal background history)
- Mandatory community college or GED courses for those who did not graduate high school or who barely graduated (those who severely lack the basic skills and knowledge imputed on an adult, or a young adult)
- Mandatory college or community college courses for those who have no college diploma, associates degree, vocational training, etc (No government check without a report showing course status; if a person is not working, he or she must be developing their career and building valuable job skills)
- Children of a person on welfare must be doing well in school (average or better)
- Proof of citizenship must be provided (and confirmed by the Social Security Department). Identity fraud will result in immediate deportation
- Recipients must show they are drug-free (mandatory drug-testing)
- Random audits will be conducted
- Mandatory visits from a social worker to assess the cleanliness and order of the home and the environment for the child (or children)
- Recipients must be available for community service when the state government needs them
I’m sure there are other conditions that I haven’t thought of and I’m sure that others would make some suggestions of their own. In fact, I would encourage those who have read this article to comment and add their suggestions.
Milton Friedman, an economist, was highly critical of welfare, and noted several times how it should be judged by its results and outcomes and not by its intentions. He also said: “There’s been one underlying basic fallacy in this idea of welfare measures, and that is that it is feasible and possible to do good with other people’s money. That view has two flaws. If I want to do good with other people’s money, I first have to take it away from them. That means that the welfare state philosophy of doing good with other people’s money, at it’s very bottom, is a philosophy of violence and coercion. It’s against freedom, because I have to use force to get the money. In the second place, very few people spend other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own.”
If we are going to coerce and extort money from taxpayers, not merely to provide safety and security for the country or to legislate for the enumerated objects in Article I, Section 8, but also to support those who don’t want to even try to support themselves and their families, then the very least we should do is provide accountability to those taxpayers (those hard-working men and women whose paychecks are seized by the government for 1/3 of the year) and that is to attach strict and limiting conditions to welfare checks. The program, which would have to be run as one that is contractual in nature and not as a constitutional responsibility, must be so burdensome, so intrusive, so violative of freedom, and so unattractive to the recipient that he or she will absolutely want to spend as little time as possible on it. Well that’s the hope anyway.
John Perazzo, “How the Liberal Welfare Destroyed Black America,” Front Page Magazine, May 5, 2016. Referenced at: https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/262726/how-liberal-welfare-state-destroyed-black-america-john-perazzo
Mike Maharrey, “The General Welfare Clause is Not About Writing Checks,” The Tenth Amendment Center, August 28, 2014. Referenced at: https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2014/08/28/the-general-welfare-clause-is-not-about-writing-checks/
Federalist No. 41 – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed41.asp
“Federal Aid to States and Local Governments,” Congressional Budget Office (CBO), April 18, 2018. Referenced at: https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/federal-aid-to-state-and-local-governments
The Delegates Who Didn’t Sign the Constitution – https://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-constitution-amendments/those-who-didnt-sign-the-constitution/
Delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (May 27 – September 1787) – http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/marryff.html
“Federal Grants to State and Local Governments (1960-2017) – Chart Analysis,” Mercatus Center (George Mason University). Referenced at: https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/Federal-grant-aid-state-and-local-chart-analysis-pdf.pdf
“Federal Spending on Benefits and Services for People with Low Income: In Brief,” Congressional Research Service, Feb. 6, 2018. Referenced at: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45097.pdf
“Spending for the General Welfare,” Cornell Law School. Referenced at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/anncon/html/art1frag29_user.html
Jefferson’s Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank (1791), Avalon Project (Yale Law School). Referenced at: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/bank-tj.asp
Grant Policy – https://www.grants.gov/learn-grants/grant-policies.html
Federal Spending: Where Does the Money Go?,” National Priorities Project. Referenced at: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/
Matthew J. Franck, “The Lawless Welfare State,” National Review, Jan. 13, 2013. Referenced at: https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2010/05/17/lawless-welfare-state/