Reagan2020.comFederalism and the New Conservatives

New Federalist Platform - The General Welfare

The defining conservative platform for this American Century.

  1. Preamble
  2. Honoring Our Founding
  3. A More Perfect Union
  4. Establishing Justice
  5. Ensuring Domestic Tranquility
  6. The Common Defense
  7. The General Welfare
  8. Secure Blessings of Liberty.

The General Welfare

Perhaps no phrase found in the Constitution has been more distorted in actual use and application than the provision that one broad purpose of our government is to promote the general welfare throughout the United States. The Constitution's Article I, Section 8, assigns Congress the "power to lay and collect taxes ... to pay the debts and provide for the ... general welfare of the United States." Certainly, if the Founders had meant this purpose to include any action that might possibly benefit citizens generally, the Constitution itself could have been limited to this solitary statement. Justice, defense, and liberty, after all, are of good effect on the general welfare of the nation as a whole.

But the Founders also ratified the Constitution's 10th Amendment, affirming, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Thus, the general welfare cannot reasonably be stretched to allow the national level of government to perform functions and exercise powers beyond those specifically and explicitly listed in the Constitution. As James Madison described the limitations on interpretation of the general welfare clause, "If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one...."

As discussed elsewhere in this Platform in other contexts, when any branch or level of government fails to enact its constitutionally defined role, the damages are multiple, including that: the role is typically abrogated, with the legitimate function performed improperly (if at all), the constitutional patterns and processes of accountability are eroded, the government loses legitimacy in citizens' eyes, and citizens' liberties are diminished. In matters related to promoting the general welfare in the United States, the most egregious violations of federalist principles have arisen from the national level of government taking from citizens their proper role in exercising the free choices of self-government in regard to their personal, family, and community decisions. And when unlimited central government undertakes such roles and responsibilities as are constitutionally reserved to the states or the people themselves, the capabilities are destroyed of individuals, private organizations, and neighborhood, local and state governments to respond to real problems that require solutions. Members of Congress have incorrectly cited the general welfare clause as justification for legislation in matters concerning health care, education (including loans to students), agriculture, foreign aid, and domestic crimes, all of which are better left to those closest to the underlying problems.

The Constitution makes clear, through the further explanation of specifically enumerated powers, what the Founders meant when referring to promoting the general welfare throughout the United States. The Founders meant by this defense of the nation, as discussed elsewhere in this Platform, and the preservation of the nation's economic integrity. Thus, this provision of the Constitution authorizes Congress to take actions in matters that affect the economic prosperity of this country in relation to other nations, including encouraging creativity, invention, and entrepreneurial activities of citizens and setting uniform laws related to economic exchanges and transactions across the land.

The Constitution's Article I, Section 8, states that Congress shall have the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations," and "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries" for effective copyright and patent protections. As discussed elsewhere in this Platform, Congress may not permissibly reassign or transfer away these constitutionally specified powers, absent constitutional amendment. We New Federalists urge Congress to reassert its responsibilities for all policy-setting functions related to domestic and foreign trade and authority over copyright and patent policy. All matters involving the general welfare of U.S. citizens, measured in terms of their financial and economic well-being related to regulation of international commerce, commerce between the states, and copyright and patent protections, are the proper province of Congress rather than any executive branch department, agency, or international body or organization. Additionally, the Constitution provides that Congress has "power ... to establish post offices and post roads," which suggests that to serve the end of the general welfare, Congress may appropriately construct and maintain an interstate highway system as necessary infrastructure for communication and transportation within the United States.

The general welfare of the American people, assessed in terms of their material prosperity, is also affected by governmental decisions related to money, trade, taxation, and national indebtedness. We New Federalists favor movements toward the maximum levels of freedom in economic exchanges, and concomitant noninterference by government, as is feasible under conditions in which government must extract fees to fund operations. The Constitution's Article I, Section 8, specifies duties, imposts, and excises as legitimate revenue-raising levies Congress may lay and collect, in addition to taxes, to pay national debts and fund national operations. As described elsewhere in this Platform, we favor tax reforms in which revenues for the central government are collected and held in accounts by the states, as replacement for the national income tax; we also favor movement toward matching levels of taxation of cross-border transactions, in the form of duties and imposts. We support efforts to retire the national debt on an orderly and timely basis.

As discussed in relation to providing for the common defense, we believe Congress has an essential duty to restrict defense-related exports that may endanger national security. Similarly, we support limited use by Congress of the power of embargo against other nations, when assessed as being in the interests of the general welfare of the United States as a whole. Nevertheless, we oppose the awarding of "most favored nation" or "normal trade relations" status, when utilized as a diplomatic tool in negotiations with tyrannical regimes that do not guarantee the rights of their citizens, and thus are not properly viewed as legitimate governments.

Similarly, we oppose programs that expend national funds and use national resources on behalf of overseas financial endeavors and investments of specific industries and enterprises. In particular, we vigorously oppose use of U.S. military forces to protect financial interests of businesses abroad.

The New Federalist interpretation of the plain language of the Constitution is that those activities not explicitly authorized to the national government are prohibited to it, and are properly left for citizens to secure themselves, through private efforts or through programs at lower levels of government. We therefore favor elimination of congressional action in regard to all matters on which the Constitution is silent, including the following subjects not specifically mentioned in the Constitution: aid to specific industries such as agriculture, education (including student loans), energy (except insofar as related to the common defense), the environment, health care, and pensions. However, as the nation has extracted money from taxpayers in exchange for promises of health care (such as Medicare) and pension benefits (including Social Security programs), in the process preventing citizens from using those funds in accord with their own free decisions concerning their personal welfare, we strongly support continuing these programs for current recipients while gradually transferring responsibility for such programs back to the citizens themselves.

Section 8: Secure Blessings of Liberty