Walter E. Williams

The March 10 issue of Human Events carried a special report on the 10 most outrageous government programs. Their 18 judges included conservative/libertarians such as former Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, former Delaware Gov. Pete Dupont, Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, and David Boaz, Cato Institute's vice president.

The Legal Services Corp. headed the list, followed closely by the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act and the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931. Rounding out the list were: Americorps, Endangered Species Act, No Child Left Behind Act, Amtrak, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards, Title X Family Planning Act, and the provision of welfare payments to non-citizens and illegal aliens.

Human Events, a conservative, Republican-leaning publication, unlike Democrats who protect scoundrels in their party, wasn't reluctant to list the presidents who sponsored or supported these outrageous government programs. Most of the programs were born during Republican administrations. Herbert Hoover was in office when the Davis-Bacon Act was written in 1931. Richard Nixon presided over the births of the Legal Services Corp. (1974), the Endangered Species Act (1973), Amtrak (1971) and the Title X Family Planning Act (1970). Gerald Ford sponsored CAFE standards (1975), and George W. Bush signed off on the No Child Left Behind Act (2002).

These laws interfere with and federalize our lives in harmful ways. The more federal control over education, the worse it becomes. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has attacked and trivialized private property rights. CAFE standards, by forcing auto companies to produce lighter, and hence less safe cars, have cost thousands of highway fatalities, and it goes on and on.

One of the more disgusting revelations of the Human Events report came when a simple question was put to high-level bureaucrats in charge of running these outrageous programs. Human Events asked them to state the constitutional authority for the programs. Warren Flatau, Federal Railroad Administration spokesman, said he wasn't a legal scholar but opined that the same question could be asked of other agencies. Chris Tollefson, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, answered that it was his understanding that authority for ESA "is based on the commerce clause." Former Rep. John Erlenborn, R. Ill., now president of the Legal Services Corp., answered: "Probably the same one that lets the federal government build highways. I don't know. The general welfare clause."

The correct answer to Human Events' question about the constitutional authority for these outrageous programs is: There is no constitutional authority whatsoever. Grossly ignorant or conniving politicians tell constitutionally ignorant Americans that it is the general welfare clause that authorizes these programs. You figure it.

Here's what James Madison, the father of our Constitution, said about the welfare clause: "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."

Thomas Jefferson said, "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." The detail or enumeration to which Madison and Jefferson refer is found mostly in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., has introduced the Enumerated Powers Act several times. It would require each act of Congress to contain a concise and definite statement of the specific constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that act or else the bill could not go forward. Shadegg's Enumerated Powers Act (HR 175) went down to three crushing defeats.

Can we ask for more compelling evidence of Congress's contempt for our Constitution, or do you think our congressmen are simply reflecting the constitutional contempt of the people?


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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