Category Archives: Size of government

The Role of America’s National Government

The western front of the United States Capitol...Image via Wikipedia
Since we are deep in the middle of a national argument about the size of the Federal Government I decided to double check what the Constitution has to say on the subject. I used the site because it provided a simple list with no additional commentary, or, “the facts, Ma’am, just the facts and nothing but the facts” to quote Sergeant Joe Friday of “Dragnet” fame.
Powers given in the Constitution of the National Government
1.       Print money
2.       Regulate interstate and international trade
3.       Make treaties and conduct foreign policy
4.       Declare war
5.       Provide an army and navy
6.       Establish post offices
7.       Make laws necessary and proper to carry out these powers
Powers given to the States in the Constitution
1.       Issue licenses
2.       Regulate intrastate businesses
3.       Conduct elections
4.       Establish local governments
5.       Ratify amendments to the Constitution
6.       Take measures for public health and safety
7.       May exert powers the Constitution does not delegate to the national government or prohibit states from using
Powers shared by National and State Governments
1.       Collect taxes
2.       Build roads
3.       Borrow money
4.       Establish courts
5.       Make and enforce laws
6.       Charter banks and corporations
7.       Spend money for the general welfare
8.       Take private property for public purpose with just compensation (eminent domain)
The Republicans often point to the seventh item under powers given to the States and they consistently use language that says that all powers not specifically delegated to the National (or Federal) government belong to the states.
They believe that education should belong to the states; they would put health and welfare with the states. They feel the Federal government is guilty of over-regulating business and that regulations need to be peeled back to allow government to get out of the way of business and let the marketplace control the economy. They believe that, although the Federal government is allowed to collect taxes, tax levels are too high. They believe that, although the Federal government has the power to spend money for the general welfare, that they have made promises that are unsustainable, and have subverted the balance of power between the Federal government and the States as intended by our Forefathers.
They would, as it appears from their strident complaints about the overreach of Federal government, drastically change the role of the Federal government as we know it. They do not show a desire to fix Social Security. They want to phase it out. They want to count on the private marketplace to provide social security to seniors. They want the ditch Medicaid and Medicare, get the Federal government out of the health care business and, again, they want to count on the private marketplace to provide health care products to Americans.
They want the Federal government to stop interfering in issues of education, and to let the states deal with educating their residents as they see fit. American educational standards cannot vary from state to state, just as health care quality should not vary from state to state. It would cause national chaos if there were not some regulated uniformity among the states on these and other issues.
It is clear that the Federal government has not overstepped its powers as delineated in the Constitution.  It has the right to collect taxes; it has the right to regulate interstate and international trade (which is a synonym for business). It has the right to spend money for the general welfare. Although I believe we need to constantly assess all regulations of business to take care that they do not strangle business, although we need to revise popular programs that become less viable for any number of reasons, we also need to accept that regulation is necessary and that social programs make life more livable for all of us, not just the people who are targeted to receive the benefits. I believe the Republicans have become too extreme and too unrealistic. They want to pare Federal government to a sort of bare bones operation that they believe more closely represents the austere vision of our forefathers who were in turn influenced by 18th century economists. I don’t believe we can fit a 21st century America into an 18th century mindset. Small government is just what it says, “small”, and we are no longer a “small” country, so I say bigger country, bigger government. We may need to pare back our National government a bit, but not to the degree that the Republicans insist on. If only compromise were possible we might be able to achieve a modern balance. If only.
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