It’s a shame that a rapper had to say it, rather than a member of Congress, but Nelly of “Hot in Herre” and “Air Force Ones” fame made a good point in a recent interview with VH1 News: If the government is shut down because Federal officials can’t seem to manage the funds with which they are entrusted, why should Americans be forced to pay taxes for the duration of the government shutdown?
“I’m trying to campaign since the government ain’t working, we shouldn’t have to pay taxes,” the St. Louis, Mo.-born entertainer told his interviewer.
“Because you know paying taxes is supposed to pay for the government which, in turn, is not working. So if they’re not working, I shouldn’t have to pay taxes,” the 38-year-old rapper continued.
While Nelly is not a political pundit or an economic policy wonk, he makes a good, if sophomoric point, considering how Federal officials have handled — or, rather, orchestrated — certain aspects of the ongoing shutdown.
Take, for instance, the efforts to make the shutdown affect average Americans in ways that are sure to generate headlines. Partial closures of certain Federal agencies have sparked a massive campaign of retribution by the bureaucratic heads of those entities. The bullies in charge have ponied up resources to disallow public use of public parks, bar people from national recreation areas, close open air monuments, kick homeowners out of properties that are located on Federally leased lands and shutter businesses that have made similar land agreements with the Federal government.
It hardly needs to be argued that there were other, likely less costly, options to deal with the shutdown as it relates to public lands — whether for reasons of security, maintenance or insufficient public services. However, more sensible options would not have been sufficient to drive the “you can’t make it without us” message that must be drilled into the public psyche to ensure that the big-spending Federal status quo continues when the shutdown is resolved.
Americans’ tax dollars are used to fulfill the payroll requirements of some 3.4 million Federal employees. And because there is waste where there is government, you can bet that they are not all essential to the Nation. Only a small percentage of government workers, however, have actually been furloughed due to the shutdown. In fact, of the 800,000 government workers initially furloughed, about 350,000 of them (Defense Department employees) were ordered back to work this week.
A great deal of legalese and emotional rhetoric has been thrown about in government efforts to purvey to the public just what differentiates an “essential” and a “non-essential” government function for the purposes of a shutdown. But perhaps if politicians had followed the Nation’s initial blueprint all along, the situation would be much easier to handle.
The U.S. Constitution handily lays out the prerogatives of the Nation’s Federal governing body in its Articles and subsequent Amendments. Especially helpful are: Article 1, Section 8; Articles 2-5; and Amendments 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25 and 26.
However, it isn’t even necessary to read through all of the Articles and Amendments listed, for the Constitution’s Preamble offers a thesis statement of sorts that provide a summarization of the reasoning behind each.
It reads: “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 Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
In a nutshell, barring the perversion of interpretation to the benefit of simple abridgement, the edicts laid forth in the Constitution establish the Federal government’s job description thusly: Provide common defense, manage foreign relations, establish and protect justice for all citizens, provide for the general welfare of the citizenry, ensure that American’s property rights are protected, coin money and establish a universal set of weights and measures, and collect taxes and budget properly in order to get the job done.
In essence, by the standards of the Constitution, most of the Federal government’s employees should likely fall under the “non-essential” category.
But it is no secret that the Constitution has been abused and negated by way of expanding the power of the executive branch and its agencies over the years. And the executive branch is clearly calling the shots.
If, for instance, you believe that Congress is powerless to end the arbitrary closing of open air monuments and National Parks, consider Article 4, Section 3: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”
So Congress has the power to remove the so-called “barrycades” that have been appearing on public lands throughout the Nation.
Unfortunately, this will not likely happen for the very same reason James Madison warned about in Federalist 51: “Men are not angels; their passions and self-interest often get the better of their reason and sense of justice, so we need government in order to protect our rights against those who would take them away.”
“But for the same reason,” Madison writes, “government must be limited because people in government have passions and interests too.”
Congressional Democrats and Republicans who have grown accustomed to the big-spending, big-government status quo simply aren’t going to give an inch until the small faction of conservatives who initiated the shutdown — in a bid to put the brakes on yet another unConstitutional big government program known as Obamacare — have been defeated. Their self-interest is certainly at stake: Democrats, because slowing Obamacare means giving up on a progressive dream of socialized medicine; and establishment Republicans, because if the conservative wing of the Party prevails, the disconnect between mainstream GOP rhetoric and actual action becomes forcefully evident.
The truest benefit of the government shutdown is, as noted by Nelly, that it illustrates just how badly American taxpayers are being ripped off in being forced to fund a governing body that has strayed so far from its intended purpose that it can’t even function, much less represent the citizens who aren’t on its payroll. Perhaps it really is a good time for American taxpayers to show grandstanding politicians what defunding the government really looks like.