budget

Stop Unconstitutional Federal Spending

There has been much controversy over President Trump’s proposed budget and the revision of health care. Much of the proposed spending in Trump’s budget and previous budgets is not supported by the Constitution.

The 2016 federal budget, submitted by Barack Obama, was $4.147 trillion which was 21.5% of GDP and resulted in a deficit for the year of $503 billion. The total federal deficit is almost $20 trillion. Although the President submits or suggests budgets, it is the duty of Congress to appropriate the money. In my opinion, a large part of federal spending is unconstitutional.

The Constitution of the United States grants certain powers to Congress and Executive Branch. Over the years, Congress has greatly exceeded its Constitutional authority. Federal agencies have created thousands of regulations and spent trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on things for which they had no authority to do so. These regulations have the force of law, but only Congress can make law. There is a movement to change the constitution with a balanced budget amendment. Such an amendment would be unnecessary if only Congress and the President would enforce the Constitution.

Below are the Constitutionally enumerated powers of Congress. Nowhere in this enumeration can I find the authority for the federal government to have Departments of Education, Labor, or Energy. I see no authority for the Environmental Protection Agency, nor the requirement that citizens buy health insurance. Some may also argue that our whole welfare and medical care systems are unconstitutional. And, as Benjamin Franklin once said, “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.”

The principal authority of Congress is specified in Article I of the Constitution.

Article I, Section 8 : The powers of Congress:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence 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.

Other Authority granted to Congress by the Constitution:

Article IV, Section 3, clause 2: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

The 16th Amendment: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

See any justification for Departments of Education, Labor, Energy, or Environmental Protection Agency etc. there? Of course, strictly speaking, there is no justification for Social Security or Medicare either. “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.” —James Madison (1792)

The 10th Amendment also limits the powers of Congress: “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.”

The Heritage Foundation opines: Those who claim the Department of Education is Constitutional say that it promotes the general welfare of the United States, however, this phrase in the preamble of the Constitution does not grant or prohibit power to Congress, that is not its purpose. The preamble simply describes the Constitution and what the document itself was designed to do, and is not actually a binding decree of the Constitution.

The Department of Education was founded using the preamble as the basis for its Constitutionality, but due to what’s stated above, it is clear that it is not. Thomas Jefferson considered the federal government’s involvement in education to be unconstitutional. In 1862, James Buchanan warned that giving education to Congress would create a vast and irresponsible authority. Both he and Jefferson were right. (Source)

Another type of unconstitutional spending occurs when agencies make unauthorized payments. Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution says in part: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” That provision was invoked in a lawsuit House of Representatives v. Burwell, which involved reimbursements the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had been paying to insurers to keep out-of-pocket costs artificially low for patients with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line. Congress refused to appropriate the funds for this scheme, but HHS reimbursed the insurers anyway, whereupon the House sued the Obama administration. The judge ruled that the payment of such reimbursements without congressional authorization “violates the Constitution.” (Source)

The essential idea of the Constitution is that the federal government has limited powers, as stated in the 10th Amendment. It’s time to return to the original meaning of the Constitution and downsize the federal government where it is politically possible to do so. Let each State decide how to handle its own business. States might be more circumspect and accountable to their citizens than is a far-off federal government. (Or, they might become California.)

I’m sure you can think of other instances where the federal government is spending taxpayer money on things not authorized by the Constitution.

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Your taxpayer dollars at work and play

(This article has been reposted since it was lost in the transition from Tucson Citizen.)

The fantastic federal budget is in the news again as Congress and federal agencies pretend to have taxpayers’ welfare in mind.  The Heritage Foundation has a new report titled

“Federal Spending by the Numbers, 2013: Government Spending Trends in Graphics, Tables, and Key Points.”  It is a long report, but well worth a read.

Of total federal spending, 23 percent goes to Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care programs; 22 percent goes to Social Security; 19 percent goes to National Defense; another 19 percent goes to “income security” and veterans benefits; and 6 percent goes to pay interest on the national debt.  That adds up to 89 percent.

In this post I will focus on wasteful spending. How is this spending justified by the Constitution or even common sense?  Here are some of the examples that the Heritage Foundation documents:

In 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture spent $300,000 on activities promoting caviar produced in Idaho.

The Federal Communications Commission spent $2.2 billion in 2012 providing phones to low-income Americans—up from $819 million in 2008. An FCC review found that 41 percent of over six million recipients were either ineligible or had not proved their eligibility for the program.

A $100,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts funded a video game that depicts a female superhero sent to save planet Earth from climate changes allegedly caused by social issues that affect women.

The Department of Energy’s Savannah River facility spent $7.7 million on severance packages for 526 temporarily hired contract workers instead of issuing layoff notices.

After receiving $150 million in taxpayer funds, a Michigan hybrid battery plant is putting workers on furlough. Not a single battery has been produced.

The General Services Administration’s poor oversight of 33 courthouse construction projects during the 2000 to 2010 time period cost taxpayers $835 million in extra construction costs. Taxpayers pay $51 million a year to maintain and operate an extra 3.5 million square feet of space that was built and remains unused today.

The Internal Revenue Service spent $4.1 million on a lavish conference in 2010 for 2,609 of its employees in Anaheim, California. Expenses included $50,000 for line-dancing and “Star Trek” parody videos, $135,350 for outside speakers, $64,000 in conference “swag” for the employees, plus free meals, cocktails, and hotel suite upgrades.

The Transportation Security Administration let 5,700 pieces of unused security equipment worth $184 million sit in storage in a Dallas, Texas, warehouse, which costs $3.5 million annually to lease and manage. Taxpayers lost another $23 million in depreciation costs, because most of the 472 carry-on baggage screening machines had been housed there for nine months or more.

The National Science Foundation awarded $350,000 to Purdue University researchers, who found golfers should imagine the hole is bigger to boost confidence and accuracy.

The National Science Foundation used part of a half million dollar grant to develop a video game that simulates a high school prom.

The National Science Foundation approved a $227,000 grant to a Michigan State University professor in the school’s Department of Animal Studies. The grant will fund a two-year study of the evolution of National Geographic’s depiction of animals from 1888–2008.

In a study costing $681,387, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research confirmed that men bearing firearms appear taller, stronger, and manlier.

The U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research conducted a $300,000 study that concluded that the first bird on earth probably had black feathers.

The Office of Naval Research conducted a $450,000 study which determined that unintelligent robots are unable to maintain a baby’s attention.

The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) fiscal year 2011 Performance and Accountability Report found $2.11 billion in overpaid Social Security benefits.

The same report found that the SSA overpaid old-age, survivors, and disability insurance benefits by $934 million in FY 2010 alone.

In 2010 alone, $6 billion or 17 percent of federal user fees were diverted from highway and road projects to pay for mass transit, even though transit accounted for only about one percent of the nation’s surface travel.

A 2012 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration identified $757 million in fraudulent tax refunds to prisoners in 2010.

Poor oversight allowed over one thousand Pennsylvania prisoners to collect weekly unemployment benefits over a four-month period, costing taxpayers $7 million.

According to 2012 Congressional Research Service reports, federal government agencies spent more than $900 million on advertising in fiscal year 2010 and spent an additional $750.4 million on advertising in fiscal year 2011.

That’s just part of the list.  It is time to demand that Congress and federal agencies practice some fiscal restraint.

See more examples of government waste here.

The sequester fluster

The sky is falling and we are all doomed because the federal government is being forced to cut spending by one percent.

The mainstream media are all atwitter at this “evisceration” of government programs. They are trying to scare us with the specter of vital programs disappearing or being drastically cut rather than suggesting ways to eliminate waste and wasteful programs. Mostly the sequester is a phantom menace, a manufactured crisis (See here, here, here).

The blame game is in full swing with the administration trying to pin the sequester on Congress and those nasty Republicans while ignoring the fact that the sequester idea came from the White House (see Bob Woodward’s article here).

That being said, there is, nevertheless, a real problem: ever growing federal spending – spending money we don’t have. This is put in perspective by statistician William M. Briggs with the following graph (the two blips are the world wars). See Briggs’ explanatory text here. This amount of spending is ultimately unsustainable and the bubble will burst.

Eliminate non-essential Tucson programs to help balance budget

The City of Tucson is proposing a half-cent sales tax increase raising the total city sales tax to 9.6%. The increase is wanted to fund four “core” services: police, fire, roads, and parks and recreation. I would put health and sanitation above parks.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, “The city would need to unload land at fire-sale prices and do asset lease-backs – the sale of government buildings for one-time cash that are then leased back to the government – this budget year if the sales-tax increase fails.” Haven’t we heard this blackmail before?

Besides “core” services, the City funds many other programs, some of which are desirable or nice to have, but not essential. The City should look into eliminating non-essential programs, no matter how desirable.

I suggest that the following programs are not essential services and should be eliminated:

Office of Conservation and Sustainable Development http://www.tucsonaz.gov/ocsd/

Energy Office http://www.tucsonaz.gov/energy/

What programs or services would you eliminate?