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Unconstitutional government

Mark Poyar | Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It is difficult not to notice the unprecedented amount of accusations leveled at President Bush claiming that he is destroying the Constitution. Many Democrats, and increasingly Republicans, rightfully charge him with illegally wiretapping American citizens without a warrant, illegally restricting speech with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill, and illegally holding “unlawful enemy combatants” indefinitely without trial or charges.

Even Ray Charles could probably see the truth in some of these charges. The Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to search a person or his property, yet the president approved many such warrantless searches conducted by NSA in obvious contradiction to both the Constitution and statutory law. Indeed, he intentionally ignored the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) passed by Congress in 1978, legislation that prevented the Executive Branch from conducting surveillance without court supervision. McCain-Feingold restricts political speech just before elections, the time when free speech is needed most. The Fifth Amendment reads, “nor shall (the accused) … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” – yet this is exactly what Bush claims the right to do when he designates people as “unlawful enemy combatants” and holds them indefinitely. Bush’s blatant disregard for the protections enshrined in the Constitution is sickening, and politicians who criticize the administration’s actions on these matters as unconstitutional deserve praise. However, it is ironic that those who claim such fidelity to the Constitution on civil liberties matters completely neglect it in budgetary matters.

The founding fathers were clearly wary of overbearing government, having just waged a successful war against such a government. They believed, as the Declaration of Independence states, that all men have “unalienable rights” and that to secure these rights, “governments are instituted among men.” They also knew that government itself is often the greatest offender of the rights of the people. Consequently, the Constitution sought to minimize this danger by placing strict, easily understood limits on what the newly created federal government could do. The Bill of Rights spelled out some of the rights of the people, supposedly protecting them from infringement by the federal government.

The Constitution created a federal government of enumerated powers. Article 1, Section 8 clearly lists these powers of Congress, defining the areas in which Congress has the authority to act (to raise and support armies, for example). James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” stated that “the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.” The 10th Amendment also confirms the point: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Therefore, Congress can only act in matters where the Constitution gives it express authority to do so; any lawmaking or spending by Congress on objects outside of its limited scope of powers are unconstitutional.

The US federal budget for 2007 is roughly $2.8 trillion dollars. Of this, about $585 billion (21 percent) goes to Social Security, $395 billion (14 percent) to Medicare, $365 billion (13 percent) to Unemployment and Welfare, $275 billion (10 percent) to Medicaid and other health related programs, and $90 billion (3 percent) to Education and Training. It is obvious from the previous analysis that Congress may only legislate within its enumerated powers; if it spends money on something outside of its powers, then it is acting unconstitutionally. What specific enumerated power in Section 8 grants Congress the power to spend money on any of any of the programs previously mentioned? Clearly, no enumerated power gives Congress the power to legislate in any of these areas. Furthermore, Madison once said in regard to proposed federal aid to refugees that he could not “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.” Therefore, these programs (which constitute more than 60 percent of federal spending) are unconstitutional.

It is a mark of how far America has strayed from the Constitution that both major parties openly support these programs. Entitlement spending alone – which includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid- constitutes a whopping 45 percent of all federal government spending. Both parties, although they would never openly acknowledge that they couldn’t care less about the Constitution, are enthusiastic supporters of entitlement spending.

Those who rightfully accuse the president of constitutional violations want to have it two ways. On one hand, they swear loyalty to the Constitution and claim that the president is violating its provisions. On the other, they are no less reluctant than a dog after eating Taco Bell to defecate all over it in budgetary matters. For members of the Legislature who are required to take oaths to uphold the Constitution, their double standards are pathetic, not unlike Ohio State’s football player graduation rate.

There is only one member of the Legislature who truly respects the Constitution. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is also running for president, asks himself a simple question before voting on any piece of legislation: does the Constitution give Congress permission to legislate on this matter? If the answer is “no,” then he votes “no.” It is that simple. It is question that all congressmen should ask before voting.

Mark Poyar is a junior finance major and vice president of the College Libertarians. Their Web site is http://ndlibertarians.blogspot.com. He is currently studying abroad in England and can be contacted at mpoyar@nd.edu

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