Democrats and the General Welfare Clause
December 10, 2009 by Bob Livingston
Senate Democrats continue to try and draft a healthcare reform bill that will be palatable to Blue Dog Democrats yet still contain enough of a so-called public option to placate the party’s left-wing base. Both the Senate bill and the bill already passed by the House of Representatives contain a mandate requiring everyone to purchase health insurance or face fines and possible jail terms.
When asked where Congress gets the authority to force Americans to buy health insurance, Congressmen—if they answer the question at all—cite the general welfare clause of the Constitution.
“Well, in promoting the general welfare the Constitution obviously gives broad authority to Congress to effect that end,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNSNews.com. “The end that we’re trying to effect is to make health care affordable, so I think clearly this is within our constitutional responsibility.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn’t answer the question at all. She replied, “Are you serious?” And Senator Roland Burris (D-Ill.), obviously a great Constitutional scholar, told CNSNews.com, “Well, that’s under certainly the laws of the—protect the health, welfare of the country.”
The word health does not appear in the Constitution. And the founders certainly never intended for the general welfare clause to be used to pass anything they pleased. But, as Judge Andrew P. Napolitano wrote in his book, The Constitution in Exile, Congress has been abusing the general welfare clause for many years.
The preamble to the Constitution says:
We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Prosperity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
In an opinion on forming a national bank, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please… Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straitly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect." (Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government, http://etxt.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/)
Clearly the nation’s third president and the author of the Declaration of Independence would scoff at today’s congressmen and the understanding—or lack thereof—they have of the Constitution.