Walter E. Williams

We all can agree that having money to pay our mortgage or rent on time is very important. Since some people are spendthrifts and don't manage their money well, what about a congressional mandate whereby mortgage or rent money is deducted from our paychecks each month and sent directly to our mortgage holder or landlord?

The medical profession advises that a vigorous 30-minute physical workout three or four times a week is important to the maintenance of good cardiovascular health. Not all of us heed that good advice. Wouldn't it be a good idea for Congress to enact a law mandating that each able-bodied person perform some type of fitness exercise -- such as running, a brisk walk, swimming or biking -- at least three times a week? In addition to making Americans healthier, it would put a big dent in the nation's health-care costs.

Were a congressman to introduce bills calling for payroll deductions for housing expenses or mandated exercise, what would you hope would be the focus of the legislative debate? Would you be satisfied if the congressional debate centered around whether housing expense deductions and mandated exercise were, in fact, good ideas? Then if congressmen agreed that mandated exercise and payroll deductions for housing expenses were good ideas, and enacted legislation to that effect, would you be happy? If not, why not? After all, it would be the result of a democratic process by our elected representatives.

Were such a bill introduced, whether it's a good idea shouldn't enter the debate at all. Whether it's a good idea or not is irrelevant. The relevant issue is: Is it permissible, under the U.S. Constitution, for Congress to enact legislation mandating exercise and payroll deductions for housing costs? The unambiguous answer to that question is a big fat no. I challenge any congressman to point us to even a hint of constitutional authority for such a mandate.

The fact of business is that Congress is authorized to do only those things enumerated by the Constitution. The uninformed might say: "Williams, you're right. But here's where you're wrong. Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution says, ‘The Congress shall have the power to ... provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.'" The general welfare clause has become the standard excuse for controlling our lives, and as such, it shows how ignorance and deception have become an important part of today's America.

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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