When we read the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, it says:
We the people of the United States, in order 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, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The “general welfare” clause has been used repeatedly as justification by liberal elements and so-called “progressives” for many pieces of legislation over the last 75 years. It began in earnest with the election of the most imperial of all presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
More recently, the Clinton Administration took up the issue of so called health care reform arguing that there was great desire in the country to nationalize the private healthcare delivery system in this country and to model it on along the lines seen in other western democracies. The reasons on the surface seem benign enough, so that all citizens who had no existing private coverage may enjoy equal access to quality care. This all sounds great, even noble and desirable. The problem is that when you strip away the high sounding, warm and compassionate rhetoric, there were some real conceptual problems with the idea of universal healthcare.
When Bill Clinton was elected President, one of the first priorities of his administration was to begin the process of establishing a universal healthcare program. First Lady Hillary Clinton, in league with others, were tasked by the President to come up with a viable program. The problem was that the plan that was formulated was far too ambitious in scope. Specifically, they attempted to provide universal coverage and private market regulation, drafted regulations that required private employer mandated coverage. They also planned enforcement of regulations and coverage via a “national health board”, and to transform the delivery system for medical care through a “managed care” model. Attempting any one of these objectives would have been difficult at best, but attempting all at the same time, and attempting to plan them in secret, was the only spark needed to begin the firestorm of opposition that would see this plan laid waste, never to be revived for the entirety of the Clinton presidency.
With the election of Barrack Obama, the dominant liberal wing of the Democratic Party has once again taken up the gauntlet and moved with what some see as precipitous speed to ram though both the House and Senate a new bill, H.R. 3200, the so called “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009”.
This bill has been touted as a solution to the problem of insuring the 45 million people the administration claims are not covered by health insurance and who need to be covered by some sort of scheme. This plan to provide coverage for so many people has become the signature legislative issue of Obama’s first year in the White House. It has also become the single most contentious issue of the new President’s term. So contentious in fact that in spite of massive majorities in both the House and Senate, there has been a massive groundswell of anger among most conservatives and many moderates who had supported Obama’s election to the Presidency.
One of the major points of contention is the cost, estimated to be in excess of 1 TRILLION dollars. Another point of contention is more esoteric; that the federal government has no constitutional authority to in effect, nationalize the health delivery system of the nation. This is a very serious point as it will mean that no longer are your health care decisions exclusively under your personal control, but now the shared purview of government bureaucrats, who will have a say as to what levels of care you will receive and who as well as what will be paid for services rendered. In deed, they may have the FINAL say.
One of the major justifications is the “Responsible Nation” principle; that a responsible, wealthy, modern, industrialized nation-state has an obligation, indeed a responsibility, to provide this sort of universal medical program for its citizens. They cite the other nations of the world as example, with the same kinds of programs the Democrats wish to emulate. Their justification being that we, the United States, the leading democracy, the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet, should be able to provide care for all.
They also use the argument that healthcare is a right, granted by the Constitution as described in the preamble, specifically, the “General Welfare” clause. They who wish this sort of program reason that the very health of the citizenry must be looked out for and that this justifies their attempt to initiate and execute the nationalization of nearly 20% of the national economy. It all sound so reasonable, so humane, so compassionate, until you strip all the rhetoric away and see that it is: a complete fabrication that can’t be sustained.
The Constitution has many parts. The preamble is designed to state broad goals of government. Some are quite specific. “Establish justice” implies that government should be the agent to ensure that justice be meted out fairly to all. “Provide for the common defense” states plainly that the government has the obligation to defend the realm from enemies both foreign and domestic. The line “promote the general welfare’ has been expanded and stretched far beyond what the original framers of the document intended. The intention was that government should encourage the general prosperity by preventing if possible, ill-conceived, damaging or improper acts from occurring that violated the enumerated powers, thus harming the general welfare of the state and its people. The constitution was writen giving specific responsibilities to federal government, outlined absolute rights of the citizens (the Bill of Rights) and left the states and the individual citizenry all other powers not specifically enumerated in the document.
The problems we find ourselves in today are directly attributed to the damage done by the Roosevelt Administration nearly 80 years ago.
In the 1930’s, limited, constitutional government was threatened, then destroyed when Franklin Roosevelt attempted to get many of his “New Deal” policies passed through congress and into law. We were in the middle of a depression and the economy was in a shambles. The programs that were passed were challenged by many and then eventually found their way to the Supreme Court. After much argument and serious judicial review, the laws were found to be unconstitutional. These challenges began in 1935 and over the next 16 months, the court reviewed 10 specific laws and struck down 8 of them as failing to meet the test of constitutionality; they violated the premises of “enumerated powers” granted to the federal government in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution. Any powers not specific to this article are reserved to the states or to the citizens.
Roosevelt desired powers similar in scope to those needed in time of war to accomplish his goals. The economic emergency he felt justified his actions. Like today, many very poorly considered, poorly drafted pieces of legislation were put through with very little if any debate. Some were not even printed up prior to a vote so they could be read and reviewed, and were simply passed without any review. Since the president and his party enjoyed overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate, there was little the opposition could do to stop it. Very similar conditions exist today as then.
After the Supreme Court struck down these laws, the President, in effect, declared war on the Supreme Court. In March of 1937, in a “Fireside Chat” radio broadcast, he stated;
“we have therefore, reached the point as a nation where we must take action to save the Constitution from the Court and the Court from itself.”
In a letter to a representative from Pennsylvania, he urged passing of the National Bituminous Coal Conservation Act, in spite of the knowledge of the doubtful nature of its constitutionality.
The elections of 1936 further empowered and emboldened the Democrats and gave further power to Roosevelt to enact his policies. What happened next was what historians refer to as the “The Revolution of 1937” when the President began an active , punitive campaign against the last bastion of conservative, constructionist interpretation of the Constitution, The United States Supreme Court. The president attempted to “pack the court” by adding additional justices to the bench, using the pretext that the elderly justices, many of whom were over 70 years of age, needed the additional help due to the excessive case load.
This was an obvious subterfuge, but sufficiently scared the Chief Justice, Charles Evan Hughes, that he attempted to formulate a plan to protect the courts traditional role as “guardian of the Constitution”. His actions were based on the premise that loosing a tactical fight with Roosevelt over some issues would prevent losses on a larger scale in order to allow for ultimate judicial supremacy on more weighty and important issues later.
The make-up of the court was fairly even with 3 more liberal justices, 2 moderates, 4 conservatives; Hughes was one of the 2 moderates. The other moderate, Justice Roberts, was encourage to move left of center to remove the impetus for Roosevelt’s court packing scheme. Unfortunately, the rulings that were made then have given us many legacy issues that we have today, one specifically, Social Security, continues to be one of the biggest wealth transfers in the country. The justification for all that Roosevelt did was the “general welfare’ section of the preamble.
From the moment Chief Justice Hughes caved, and the principle of “general Welfare” as justification for government larges was made legal precedent, the public had in effect, been granted access, via their elected representatives, to the public purse for private use, through entitlement programs. This was the first trip down the slippery slope that has now become economic disaster for us today nearly 80 years later. One wonders what Mr. Chief Justice Hughes would say if he were alive today to see what he had wrought.
In 1951, Justice Roberts wrote:
“In looking back, it is difficult to see how the Court could have resisted the popular urge…an insistence by the court on holding federal power to what seemed it’s appropriate orbit when the Constitution was adopted might have resulted in even more radical changes to our duel structure than those which have gradually accomplished through the extension of limited jurisdiction conferred on the federal government.”
There was little erosion in the intervening years due to World War II, the Korean War, and the fairly conservative years under both Eisenhower and Kennedy. It wasn’t until the Johnson administration that we saw the complete disintegration of the “enumerated powers” barrier.
The arrival of the “Great Society” programs were the death knell to States and individual rights and the breach that allowed the federal government to provide “something for everyone”. Congress lacked the political will or fiscal discipline to reign in spending. In the name of social justice and egalitarianism, the government, using the justification of improving the “general welfare”, once again, began routinely running massive deficits that have continued to this day in ever increasing amounts. There has been virtually unlimited tax/borrow and spend activities without any real abatement. The spending that can be justified using “general welfare” as a basis has allowed Congress and the President to enter into a bidding war with the public, each out-bidding the other in the attempt to buy the favor of the people. Individuals within and outside of Congress compete for votes and power by attempting to out promises the other to gain advantage and hence, more power via the public purse.
As of today, August 13, 2009, the United States is the biggest debtor nation in the history of the world. We have this year, accumulated $1.3 TRILLION in additional debt which is nearly 4 times the debt of the previous year. The total accumulated public debt of the United States is approximately $12 TRILLION dollars. The amounts seem impossible, almost unfathomable. But it is real and a fatal danger to our Republic and our traditional way of life. This debt must be paid off someday by someone- perhaps, our grandchildren or great grand children.
It may take that long….
Now the new Obama administration, even more liberal, even more “populist” than we have seen before, possibly even more damaging than Roosevelt’s administration was, has risen to power and has begun a process to in effect, nationalize the health delivery system of the nation. They make many claims, promises much to assuage the fears of the masses, but it is clear that if they get their way, we will see the greatest hit against the original intent of Constitutional government since 1937. It will definitely be the greatest reduction of personal freedom and liberty ever seen in modern times and We the People, could well see the public debt increase to the point of national insolvency.
This must stop…
In order to save the Republic, we must stop and then begin to roll back the trend to spend public money for maintenance of individual people and the financing of private enterprise like the bail-outs and “stimulus” payments we have seen pass this year. We need constitutional amendments that repeal the income tax, the most regressive, and debilitating tax on prosperity there is, and to limit the scope of taxing and spending power that can be done at the federal level. We must insist in a “Balanced Budget” amendment that will force under penalty of law, the Congress and the Executive Branch to account for all monies spent and collected and report it to the people, then balancing the spending of government funds to match revenues in each budget year. The several states need to reassert their traditional roles and insist on their sovereign rights and prerogatives by reasserting their authority under the 10th Amendment. If the Federal government encroaches, the states and individual citizens must act either individually or collectively to put down the encroachment on their prerogatives.
By conducting themselves as they did, President Roosevelt and Chief Justice Hughes, set into motion much of the framework that now encumbers and entangles us today. James Madison, when asked specifically about the “General Welfare” clause, if it was a grant of unlimited power, he replied in a letter to Henry Lee, “If not the means but the objects are unlimited, the parchment (the Constitution) should be thrown into the fire at once!”