Monday, May 25, 2015

Why The United States Operates Under An Expansive Interpretation Of The General Welfare Clause

The General Welfare Clause (GWC), as viewed by the Right, has been abused by the Left. Overtaxing to fund social programs that are "unconstitutional" in their view. Congress should only be able to collect taxes to pay for something it is authorized to do under the enumerated powers.

So, how has the Left been able to get away with imposing their socialism on our nation? Against the will of the Founders, no less? Turns out that not all the Founders held to a strict interpretation to the GWC.

Time out. What is the General Welfare Clause? Wikipedia notes that "Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution, grants the federal government of the United States its power of taxation". Congress has the power to tax in order to "to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States".

OK, so while some of the Founders argued for the "enumerated powers" view concerning taxation, Alexander Hamilton believed otherwise.

Hamilton argued for a broad interpretation which viewed spending as an enumerated power Congress could exercise independently to benefit the general welfare, such as to assist national needs in agriculture or education, provided that the spending is general in nature and does not favor any specific section of the country over any other.

A expansive interpretation of the GWC is what the United States is operating under today... much to the horror of those who believe in a "strict" reading of the Constitution (Libertarians among them).

Wikipedia says "Hamilton's view prevailed during the administrations of Presidents Washington and Adams, [but] historians argue that his view of the General Welfare Clause was repudiated [after] the United States Supreme Court imposed a narrow interpretation on the Clause [with] Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co" in 1921.

But future SCOTUS rulings reversed the narrow view ruling of 1921.

This narrow view was later overturned in 1936 with United States v. Butler. There, the Court agreed with Associate Justice Joseph Story's construction in Story's 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Story had concluded that the General Welfare Clause was not a general grant of legislative power, but also dismissed Madison's narrow construction requiring its use be dependent upon the other enumerated powers. Consequently, the Supreme Court held the power to tax and spend is an independent power and that the General Welfare Clause gives Congress power it might not derive anywhere else. However, the Court did limit the power to spending for matters affecting only the national welfare.

Shortly after Butler, in Helvering v. Davis (1937), the Supreme Court interpreted the clause even more expansively, disavowing almost entirely any role for judicial review of Congressional spending policies, thereby conferring upon Congress a plenary power to impose taxes and to spend money for the general welfare subject almost entirely to Congress's own discretion. Even more recently, in South Dakota v. Dole the Court held Congress possessed power to indirectly influence the states into adopting national standards by withholding, to a limited extent, federal funds. To date, the Hamiltonian view of the General Welfare Clause predominates in case law.

So there you have it. Initially the US operated under the Hamiltonian view of the GWC (despite several Founders disagreeing with Hamilton). We briefly switched to the narrow interpretation with a SCOTUS ruling in 1921, but then the SCOTUS reversed itself in 1936.

And in every subsequent ruling since has expanded the power of Congress to tax for whatever "General Welfare" purpose it wishes. SCOTUS precedent has codified the Expansive Interpretation, which we have been living under since 1936.

Sorry, Narrow-Interpretation-favorers, argue all you want, but the Expansive Interpretation is here to stay. As a Leftist I'm all for it.

DSB #6

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