What seems to be happening is, in the first part of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution it says:
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: but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
Many will read this and say it says right here that the Federal Government is to provide for the general welfare of the country. The problem is, they are only reading the introduction to the section instead of the section as a whole. If they would continue on, what they would find is that the framers of the Constitution took the time to list out all of these areas of defense and general welfare the Federal government has powers over. I will not list them all here because they are lengthy, but if you go take a look, you will see the list of defense and general welfare items the first part of the section was referring to. For example it lists items like coining money, establishing post offices and post roads, declaring war, and providing and maintaining a navy. Nowhere does it mention anything regarding health or healthcare or many other areas our Federal Government involves itself in like education.
And because they knew governments always try to gain more power than they are given, based on the history of man, they added in Amendment X, which says:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, or prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
They wanted to make sure, in case the Federal Government was at all confused about what their powers were, they would be reminded their powers were limited by what is stated in the Constitution and the rest is to be left to the states or the people. Is it not clear that any power that is not specifically given to the Federal Government by the Constitution, is not in their power for them to legislate on? If the Federal Government had unlimited power over anything considered in the general welfare, then what would be left to the states and the people?
So, let me give you an example of one of the situations that has come up lately which prompted this blog article. I am a big supporter of breastfeeding. I not only think it is the natural thing to do, I also think it provides unseen health protections to a child and allows for greater bonding for the child and parent among other benefits, so I also believe it is in the general welfare of the country for people to choose this option when possible. Rep. Michelle Bachmann has come under attack lately for sharing her view that the Federal Government should not be providing for or making laws regarding breastfeeding, as it is not in their powers. Specifically, she disagrees with tax breaks for breastpumps. This is seen by many as an attack on breastfeeding, even though she supports breastfeeding and nursed her 5 children.
I support her views that our Federal Government should not be making laws supporting or taking away from breastfeeding. Nowhere is health listed as a power of the Federal Government, and even though it may be seen by many to be in the general welfare of the country, it still is not in the Federal Governments powers to do anything about it. But what about all the federal departments that have been set up regarding health and studying health related topics? Yep, nowhere in the Constitution have we given the Federal Government the power to take our tax money and spend it on anything health related. These are powers the Federal Government is taking unconstitutionally that are to be left to the states or the people to decide on.
Many will say breastfeeding is in the general welfare of the country and as I stated above, I agree. But that still does not change the law of the land and the enumerated powers we give to the Federal Government. If we break the law in one area because we feel a cause is noble or worthy, what if someone comes along later and breaks it to do something they deem noble and worthy but you disagree with it? As an example, what if someone comes along and feels our population is growing too fast and we need to limit births to one child per couple? There are people out there who do believe this and they would suggest it is in the general welfare of this country to keep our population down because we are going to run out of resources if we keep growing our population like this. So, using the general welfare clause, they pass a law limiting births to 1 child per couple.
The point is, you can't just ignore the law because it is something you personally find to be a noble cause and say you are okay with the government doing it. You also can't ignore the law because they have ignored it in the past on so many other things. You have to take the law as it is, and when you come up with an idea you think is great, you look to the law first to see if it is in the Federal Governments powers before you decide they need to pass a law in this area. If they do not have the power, then you can look to your state or local government. But, better yet, look to yourself. More on that later.
Many say it doesn't matter that there are powers listed in the Constitution because the Constitution provides that the Federal Government can do anything it deems to be in the general welfare of our country. But who decides this and aren't there varying opinions on most issues. Many say the Constitution is ever changing as the people and society are changing and therefore the Constitution is a living document. I must ask, how many laws in this country are interpreted as living documents? None. They are meant to stand as written, unless society determines a change is needed and they will then make an amendment to the law. This is the same with our US Constitution. It is the supreme law of the land (Article VI) and can only be changed by amendment. So, at some point if the people determine they want to see the Federal Government deal in areas of health, then they would amend the Constitution to add that power into the list with three fourths of the states needed to ratify it (Article V).
The Constitution also states in Article IV, Section 4:
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,
A Republican form of Government is one where there is rule by law, not by the majority, which is what a Democracy form of government is. The reason for this is that they wanted to protect minority rights. With this, federal legislators on a whim could not go and enact a law that would hurt the minority because the Constitution would not allow for it unless it was in one of the areas the Federal Government had powers over, but even then they had to hold to the individual's rights. The Federal Government was meant to be a limited government with a few main functions which are relations between the states, relations with other countries, and most importantly the protection of our individual rights. The point here being that our Federal Government has to hold to the Constitution in order to guarantee a republican form of government. It cannot interpret the law however it sees fit. If must follow it as it is written or change it by amendment otherwise they would not be following the law.
If something like breastfeeding is truly in the general welfare of the country, and the Federal Government can't do anything about it, what is to be done? The People step up and take on causes they deem are important. They start organizations to promote their causes. They have fundraisers to raise money. They run ad campaigns to get their message out. They persuade people to their cause based on their passion and they appeal to people's logic and reason. They make their case and let others decide for themselves. People join the cause or give money because they feel driven to do so and they are happy to help or because it makes sense in their life. They are not forced to give to a cause because the federal government says a particular cause is worthy of our tax dollars.
So the next time you decide the government needs to take up a certain cause, once you have looked to the Constitution and determined it is not in the Federal Governments power to deal in that area, you should consider looking to yourself for solutions. Consider donating time or money to causes that you see worthy. Spend your money on items that promote your cause such as buying organic if you feel this is worthy. Changes come because people have decided that they should come. If a government tries to force a change, you will automatically have resistance just by the nature of the way people are. People want to do the right thing of their own free will, not be forced to do it. Governments can take years to push through legislation because of all the resistance that is caused. People can make changes in their own communities and even the whole nation when they realize they have the power to encourage support by others.
This interview with Daniel Quinn shows how just changing your approach for advancing your cause can have great benefits when you don't rely on government to do it for you. If you read this interview all the way through, I think you will see what happens when an idea becomes political. You create two sides fighting each other and not much gets done in the meantime. There are other ways to go about promoting your cause. Our founders knew all this and tried to limit government as much as possible and allow everything else be handled by the people because they knew this was the best way.
I encourage everyone to read over the Constitution at least once so you are familiar with what is in it. Keep a pocket constitution on hand for when you need a quick reference. You can get one free from the Heritage Foundation. If you have an android phone, there is a free Constitution app called United States Constitution that you can download which also includes other historical documents for quick reference. In addition to all this, when election time comes, look for people who know the Constitution and will uphold it. Look to those who will try to repeal unconstitutional laws so that we get our government out of areas that it has not been given power over.
I hope this helps many to see that someone can be passionate about a cause but also understand the Constitution and its limits. And to realize it is in everyone's best interest to hold up the rule of law.