by Laurence Vance, Future of Freedom Foundation

The debate in Congress over the extension of the Bush tax cuts has obscured the issue of government spending. After all, it is because members of Congress love to spend money that isn’t theirs that we “need” an income tax to begin with.

Government spending is out of control. The federal budget is fast approaching $4 trillion. The budget deficit is over a trillion dollars. The national debt will soon top $14 trillion, as it rises by billions of dollars each day.

This crisis is not just because the Democrats are in power. Under the Bush presidency for eight years and a mostly Republican Congress for six of those years a $150 billion surplus in 2001 turned into a $1 trillion deficit in 2008. The federal budget increased by over $1 trillion. The national debt doubled. And during the last six years of the Clinton presidency, it was the Republicans that controlled both the House and the Senate.

The fact that the Republicans recently regained control of the Congress won’t mean anything when it comes to reining in government spending since in their “Pledge to America” the Republicans promise to “protect our entitlement programs for seniors and future generations” and only call for a reduction in government spending to the level it was during the Bush presidency.

All the statist proposals in the Democratic and Republican parties to rein in government spending are nothing more than bandaids: baseline budgeting, a Balanced Budget Amendment, automatic across-the-board spending cuts, sunset provisions, spending increases limited to the rate of inflation, spending caps based on GDP, deficit reduction targets, budget enforcement rules, elimination of earmarks, deficit commissions, elimination of unnecessary spending, temporary freezes on certain categories of spending, rollbacks to some previous level, non-binding public voting on spending cuts, and, of course, cutting waste, fraud, and abuse.

The only way to rein in government spending is by the wholesale elimination of departments, agencies, commissions, administrations, corporations, councils, boards, and bureaus with all of their programs and personnel.

Of the sixteen executive branch Cabinet-level departments, a limited Constitutional case could be made only for the departments of State, Treasury, Justice, and Defense. Any legitimate operations of the Departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs could be subsumed under the Department of Defense. This means that the functions and bureaucracies of the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, and Transportation should be eliminated in their entirety. The original four departments (Justice, State, Treasury, and War) might conceivably serve some useful purpose — but only if they were scaled down considerably, and especially the Defense Department, which spends most of its budget on empire and offense.

Next to go would have to be the alphabet soup of government agencies like the SEC, DEA, FEMA, FTC, FCC, OSHA, EPA, BATF, NASA, FDA, EEOC, LSC, TVA, NEA, FHA, NEH, CPB, SBA, NIH, NLRB, USAID, and NTSB.

This means no more funding for income redistribution schemes like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SCHIP, food stamps, WIC, TANF, housing subsidies, foreign aid, refundable tax credits, Head Start, the National School Lunch Program, unemployment benefits, and farm subsidizes.

This also means no more funding for science, education, medical research, or climate change.

Oh, and there should be no office of surgeon general or drug czar, AIDS czar, or faith-based czar.

In other words, strictly limit government spending to only what is constitutionally authorized — just like James Madison, Grover Cleveland, and Davy Crockett believed.

When Congress appropriated $15,000 to assist some French refugees, Congressman Madison objected, saying: “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

President Cleveland vetoed a bill passed by Congress to provide financial assistance to farmers suffering from a drought. In his veto message Cleveland stated:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.

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And Congressman Crockett responded to a congressional attempt to help the widow of a naval officer:

I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.

Just a cursory reading of article I, section 8, of the Constitution, where the powers of Congress are enumerated, is enough to see that Madison, Cleveland, and Crockett hold the solution to the problem and every member of Congress that defends the welfare/warfare state — that is, every member of Congress except Ron Paul — is part of the problem.

Government spending must be reined in, by dismantling the illegitimate functions of the federal government. It is possible, it is necessary, and it is time.

Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State and The Revolution that Wasn’t. His newest book is Rethinking the Good War. Visit his website.

Copyright © 2010 Future of Freedom Foundation

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