Thursday, December 16, 2010

Congress and the Constitution

The Senate has an "omnibus" spending bill and Senator Coburn's webpage has a spreadsheet the summarizes all the "earmarks" in the bill. The Senator's spreadsheet is worth a look. Here are a few of the things Congress is considering spending money on. Keep in mind that since the government is running a deficit, we might as well say these are some of the things Congress is borrowing money for:
  • $1 million - City of Rockville sanitary sewer rehabilitation project
  • $2.5 million - Long Creek Watershed Management District for a stormwater and water quality project
  • $1 million - City of Hamtramck for water and sewer line rehabilitation
  • $1 million - County of Riverside, Moreno Valley, CA, for facilities and equipment related to trauma care
  • $16.1 million - John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and its affiliate, as authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • $10.5 million - National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. . . .
  • $25.6 million - National Writing Project . . . .
  • $1 million - Planning, Design, Renovation and Revitalization of Historic Building
  • $1 million - For event and meeting space infrastructure at the Bangor Regional Arena and Meeting Complex
  • $0.5 million - To acquire blighted property and renovate facilities to create an industrial park
  • $1 million - For the acquisition of facilities in Covington, LA to be used for community services and economic development
  • $1 million - (City) Demolition of Blighted Buildings
  • $1.25 million - For construction of a senior center
  • $1.55 million - For improvements to the Pigeon Harbor Industrial Park
  • $1 million - For construction of facility that will accommodate an education and interactive learning center
  • $1 million - To renovate the facility for the Jewish Vocational Service and to provide equipment and furnishings
  • $2.5 million - Legal Advocacy for Crime Victims (Nationwide)
  • $1 million - Bronx River and South Bronx Waterfront
  • $1 million - Washington State Methamphetamine Initiative
  • $4 million - Marine Aquaculture Lab Operations
  • $4.5 million - Center for Water Technology and Policy
  • $2 million - Sensors for Monitoring Chesapeake Bay Watershed Health
  • $2 million - Center of Teacher Excellence
  • $4 million - Life Sciences Commercialization Laboratory
  • $5 million - Phase II construction, National Center for Natural Products Research, Oxford, MS
  • $2 million - Market Development, WI
  • $2.6 million - Agricultural Pest Facility, HI
  • $3.49 million - Formosan Subterranean Termites Research, New Orleans, LA
  • $1.65 million - Human Nutrition Research, Boston, MA; Houston, TX; Kannapolis, NC
  • $1.45 million - Mosquito Trapping Research/West Nile Virus, Gainesville, FL
  • $1.25 million - University of Alabama, Rural Health Entrepreneurial Development Project, Tuscaloosa, AL
  • $2.4 million - Bank On USA demonstration projects, HI
This is just a really, really small part of the entire list.

Why is Congress spending money on these things, much less borrowing money for them? I suppose the answer to this question is simple, i.e., this is the way our rent seeking system of politics works these days.

I think the more important question is: Why do members of Congress think they have been granted the power to spend money on such things? Our Constitution defines our government, presumably, to be a limited government with specifically enumerated powers. You've read the Constitution. It goes something like this:
The Congress shall have Power . . . . To borrow money on the credit of the United States; To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States . . . . To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout 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 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. . . .
I just can't find in my copy of the Constitution that Congress has the power to create a center for teacher excellence, or the power to renovate buildings for religious vocational services, or the power to create industrial parks, or the power to be an advocate for crime victims, or the power to demolish blighted buildings for city governments, or the power to provide facilities for trauma care. I suspect that if I had time to read through Senator Coburn's entire spreadsheet I would find no more than one or two percent of the spending items were associated with the actual enumerated constitutional powers of Congress.

Does it make sense to ask if the United States Government is now, properly speaking, a constitutional form of government?

1 comment:

Tim Canon said...

Check it out:

Alexander Hamilton agrees. You're in good company.