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States Need Budgets – but Enumerated Powers Limit Federal Spending

By Publius Huldah

We will never solve our political and fiscal problems if we continue in our present state of ignorance of the fundamental distinction between the federal Constitution and the State Constitutions.

With our federal Constitution, we created a national government to which we delegated only a handful of enumerated powers. If you would trouble yourself to read the federal Constitution, this fact would jump out at you and hit you over the head. [THIS simple chart will get you started.]

The federal government doesn’t need a budget because Congress’ spending is limited by the enumerated powers. Congress is to appropriate funds to carry out the handful of delegated powers, and then it is to pay the bills with receipts from taxes. 1

And if you read your State Constitution, you will see that those who ratified it [foolishly] created a State government of general and unlimited powers subject only to the exceptions carved out by its Declaration of Rights. 2

Since State governments were created to possess general and unlimited powers, State governments may lawfully spend money on just about anything they want. 2 Accordingly, State governments need budgets to limit their spending to receipts.

But Federal Spending is limited by the Enumerated Powers

The federal Constitution lists the items Congress is permitted to spend money on. If you read through the federal Constitution and highlight the powers delegated to Congress and the President, you will have a complete list of the objects on which Congress is lawfully authorized to spend money. Here is the list:

  • The Census (Art. I, §2, cl. 3)
  • Publishing the Journals of the House and Senate (Art. I, §5, cl. 3)
  • Salaries of Senators and Representatives (Art. I, § 6, cl. 1)
  • Salaries of civil officers of the United States (Art. I, §6, cl. 2 & Art. II, §1, cl. 7)
  • Pay the Debts (Art. I, §8, cl. 1 & Art. VI, cl.1)
  • Pay tax collectors (Art. I, §8, cl.1)
  • Regulate commerce with foreign Nations, among the several States, and with Indian Tribes (Art. I, §8, cl.3) 3
  • Immigration office (Art. I, §8, cl.4)
  • The mint (Art. I, §8, cl. 5)
  • Attorney General to handle the small amount of authorized federal litigation involving the national government (e.g., Art. I, §8, cls. 6 & 10)
  • Post offices & post roads (Art. I, §8, cl. 7)
  • Patent & copyright office (Art. I, §8, cl. 8)
  • Federal courts (Art. I, §8, cl. 9 & Art. III, §1)
  • Military and Citizens’ Militia (Art. I, §8, cls. 11-16)
  • Since Congress has general legislative authority over the federal enclaves listed in Art. I, §8, next to last clause, Congress has broad spending authority over the tiny geographical areas listed in this clause.
  • The President’s entertainment expenses for foreign dignitaries (Art. II, §3); and
  • Since Congress had general legislative authority over the Western Territory before it was broken up into States, Congress could appropriate funds for the US Marshalls, federal judges, and the like for that Territory (Art. IV, §3, cl. 2).

So! That’s about all Congress is authorized by our original Constitution to spend money on. 4 Did I leave anything out? To find out, take 20 minutes and, armed with a highlighter, read carefully through the original Constitution and see for yourself.

Let’s look at some of the appropriations bills passed by the First Congress: 5

  • HERE is the Act for the establishment and support of Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers, of August 7, 1789 (expenditure authorized by Art. I, 8, next to last clause);

 

  • HERE is the Act providing for the Expenses which may attend Negotiations or Treaties with the Indian Tribes, and the appointment of Commissioners for managing the same, of August 20, 1789 (expenditure authorized by Art. I, 8, clause 3 & Art. II, §2, cl. 2);

 

  • HERE is the Act providing for the establishment of the Post Office, of September 22, 1789 (expenditure authorized by Art. I, §8, cl. 7); and

 

  • HERE is the Act providing for the compensation of federal judges and the Attorney General, of September 23, 1789 (expenditure authorized by Art. III, §1 for the federal judges; & for the AG, Art. I, §6, cl. 2 & Art. II, §2, cl. 2 & Art. I, §8, last clause)

Read these appropriations bills: They are single subject, short, easy to understand, and illustrate how appropriations bills ought to be written.

So, do you see? Congress is to make the appropriations for the objects of the enumerated powers delegated to the national government.

Pursuant to Art. I, §9, clause 7, Congress is to periodically publish a Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures.

We don’t need a federal budget because the Constitution delegates to Congress only limited and narrowly defined authority to spend money.

Accordingly, the federal Constitution doesn’t provide for a Budget. We never had a federal budget until Congress passed the unconstitutional Budget and Accounting Act of 1921.

We got the crushing federal debt because for 100 years, Congress has been IGNORING the existing constitutional limits on its spending. Most of Congress’ spending is unconstitutional as outside the scope of the delegated powers.

The Answer to our political and fiscal problems is already laid out in the federal Constitution: Downsize the federal government to its enumerated powers and return the usurped powers to the States or the People.

Why are Some Pushing for a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA)?

Many of those clamoring for a federal BBA don’t know about the fundamental distinction between the federal and State Constitutions. But they want to do something about the out of control federal spending; they are told a BBA is the answer; and so, without giving it much thought, they jump on the bandwagon.

But others have an evil agenda in pushing for a BBA – an agenda so evil that if they disclosed it, most Americans would reject it:

All versions of a BBA transform our federal Constitution from one which created a national government with only a few enumerated powers to a national government of general and unlimited powers. This is because BBAs substitute a “budget” for the enumerated powers; and accordingly, the national government would become lawfully authorized to spend money on whatever they put in the Budget!

That unlimited spending power on whatever they want is what would transform the national government into one of general and unlimited powers.

To add insult to injury, while all versions of a BBA pretend to limit spending; they actually permit increases in spending and increases in debt whenever a majority votes to do so. 6

Conclusion

 

When the history of our time is written, do not let it be said that the American People were too lazy and stupid to be free. Do not let tricksters take away our glorious Heritage. Wake up! Stop applications for a convention for a BBA from being passed in your State. If your State has already passed such an application, educate your State legislators and get them to rescind it.

Endnotes:

1 The constitutional powers of the national government were supposed to be exercised with the proceeds of excise taxes & impost tariffs, with any shortfall being made up by an apportioned assessment on the States based on population.

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Publius Huldah is a retired litigation attorney who lives in Tennessee. Before getting a law degree, she got a degree in philosophy

where she specialized in political philosophy and epistemology (theories of knowledge).

One Response to “States Need Budgets – but Enumerated Powers Limit Federal Spending”

  1. Robert Shannon says:

    Excellent commentary, just what you expect from such a wonderful blog like VaRight.

    My personal hope and many of my efforts today is to convince my fellow Virginians that Referendum Reform in Virginia is a must. State and local spending issues ( with referendum reform ) would place power back where it belongs—in the hands of the citizens. Local and State spending could be capped with real estate tax and property tax increases being capped at the local level, term limits ( that exist today in 15 States–all 15 passed by ballot initiatives ) Term limits across the State and you have no more powerful Chairs , made all the more destructive in their power by the 20-30 years they spend accruing it. The Chairs get rotated because no one can stay more than 2 terms. Public servants…….today that term is a joke.

    Local legislators and their pals in the G.A hate the idea and refuse to promote it. The Patriot movement can not for the life of me seem to get their act together and collectively push their reps in the G.A to get this done.

    Virginia remains one of the most restrictive States when it comes to Citizen driven ballot Initiatives and at the moment it should be our top State priority to get this done, the sooner the better.

    If local and State elected officials can’t control their impulse to spend more money every year, then let’s put some roadblocks in the way, something we can only accomplish with Referendum Reform.

    Bob Shannon

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    Tom White Says:

    Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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