Congress Must Follow Constitution to Limit Government

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
Congress Must Follow Constitution to Limit Government

In an essay published by Cato, Roger Pilon questions Congress's commitment to constitutional limits on its power.

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

This is the proper delegation of power in the Constitution as defined by James Madison in Federalist 45.

A recent piece published by Cato echoed Madison’s description.

Roger Pilon, the author of the article, recounts events in American history when the president in one case and Congress in another refused to fund endeavors that were not exercises of constitutionally enumerated powers.

The first example of federal frugality provided by Pilon is Grover Cleveland’s veto of a bill seeking an $100,000 appropriation to help farmers in Texas suffering the effects of a drought. “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution,” Cleveland wrote in explanation of his veto.

Pilon tells of two times in the early years of Congress that the people’s representatives refused to spend the people’s money on programs not provided for in the Constitution’s grant of legislative powers:

In 1791, for example, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton unveiled his Report on Manufactures — an early industrial policy scheme. Congress promptly shelved it. And in 1794, the Constitution’s principal author, James Madison, finding before him a bill for the relief of French refugees fleeing to Baltimore and Philadelphia from an insurrection in San Domingo, rose on the floor of the House to declare, unremarkably, that he could not “undertake to lay his finger on that article of the Federal Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending on objects of benevolence the money of their constituents.”

Where has that spirit gone? There was a man named Ron Paul who once earned the nickname “Dr. No” for his consistent commitment to oppose any bill with an object not placed within Congress’s purview.

Today, Representative Justin Amash (R-Mich.) publicly announces and explains every vote on his Facebook page, giving constituents and other citizens a chance to comment on his record.

In January, Amash demonstrated his old-school austerity by voting against a bill authorizing a nearly $10-billion increase in the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The extra funds were to be used for the relief of victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Amash’s fidelity in the face of what many would call a charitable vote in favor of helping the suffering is reminiscent of another maverick congressman.

Click here to read the entire article.

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