Texas Representative (and repeated presidential candidate) Ron Paul asserts his principled approach to politics on a regular basis. When Congressman Paul declines to vote for a congressional medal of honor for Rosa Parks, he says it has nothing to do with disrespecting the civil rights movement. No, no, says Ron Paul, he opposes spending even a tiny amount of money to honor Rosa Parks:
because authorizing $30,000 of taxpayer money is neither constitutional nor, in the spirit of Rosa Parks who is widely recognized and admired for standing up against an overbearing government infringing on individual rights.
Because of my continuing and uncompromising opposition to appropriations not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution, I must remain consistent in my defense of a limited government whose powers are explicitly delimited under the enumerated powers of the Constitution–a Constitution, which only months ago, each Member of Congress, swore to uphold.
Perhaps we should begin a debate among us on more appropriate processes by which we spend other people’s money. Honorary medals and commemorative coins, under the current process, come from allocated other people’s money. We should look for another way.
It is, of course, easier to be generous with other people’s money.
In voting to deny Rosa Parks a congressional medal, Ron Paul cites his “continuing and uncompromising opposition to appropriations not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution” and “my defense of a limited government whose powers are explicitly delimited under the enumerated powers of the Constitution.” What does Ron Paul mean by “enumerated powers of the Constitution“? Let’s look to another of his speeches for an answer:
Madison said: “With respect to the words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of power connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs not contemplated by its creators.” Madison argued that there would be no purpose whatsoever for the enumeration of the particular powers if the general welfare clause was to be broadly interpreted. The Constitution granted authority to the federal government to do only 20 things, each to be carried out for the benefit of the general welfare of all the people. This understanding of the Constitution, as described by the Father of the Constitution, has been lost in this century.
Ron Paul adopts a Madisonian interpretation of the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution in Article I, Section 8, which reads:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.
That sure seems to enumerate pursuance of the general Welfare as a Congressional power, and it is in alliance with the “promote the General Welfare” language in the Preamble to the Constitution. Ron Paul says it isn’t in there, though, and James Madison agrees with him. But Paul ignores another “founding father,” Alexander Hamilton, and also ignores the Supreme Court in the 20th and 19th Centuries, which has consistently ruled that Congress pursuant to the General Welfare Clause has the authority to pass laws to promote the general welfare.
Assume for the moment that Alexander Hamilton and Supreme Court majorities from 1819 onward are wrong, that Ron Paul is right, and that when the U.S. Constitution says the Congress shall have power to provide for the general welfare, it actually doesn’t mean it. Or assume, at the very least, that Ron Paul means what he says. If you make one of these assumptions, then what is Ron Paul doing as a cosponsor of H.R. 636?
H.R. 636, also known as the Positive Alternatives Act, reroutes money allocated for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits, programs and services for poor Americans, reallocating that federal money to go instead to support the budgets of non-governmental groups telling poor people not to have abortions. The following is the complete list (on February 1, 2009) of cosponsors of H.R. 636; all of them joining Republican sponsor Rep. Michele Bachmann in promoting the bill:
Roscoe Bartlett, Marsha Blackburn, John Boozman, J. Randy Forbes, Wally Herger, Jim Jordan, John Kline, Doug Lamborn, Thaddeus McCotter, Patrick McHenry, Randy Neugebauer, Ron Paul, Joseph Pitts, David Roe,
Christopher Smith, and Todd Tiahrt.
All of these are Republicans, all of them highly invested in a vision of America bereft of a woman’s right to bodily self-determination. But let’s return our focus to Ron Paul, who has been adamant that the only appropriate congressional expenditures are ones that are specifically authorized in Article I of the Constitution. Remember that for Ron Paul the general welfare clause doesn’t count.
Is spending for anti-abortion intervention authorized by the Constitution? Where is spending for anti-abortion intervention authorized by the Constitution?
It’s not in there, not unless you interpret anti-abortion intervention as promoting the general welfare, and not unless you believe the general welfare clause permits government to promote the general welfare. We know for certain that he opposes the latter, and we also know that he is against abortion for reasons having to do with his religion and his personal experience as an obstetrician. Ron Paul believes abortion is not consistent with the general welfare, and there is no enumerated constitutional authorization for anti-abortion expenditures except through the General Welfare Clause. Ron Paul seems perfectly willing to support federal spending to promote his personal vision of the general welfare, as long as it is for an issue he cares about, taking a position that he agrees with.