Curbing Government Corruption

minute-man-2-lithoIllinois’ Ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich gave the American People the best example of how our government really works that I have seen in my lifetime.  In return, he was fired by the Illinois Legislature for airing the family laundry in public.  The corruption we saw in Illinois may be extreme, but in substance it is little different from that practiced in state houses across the nation as well as in Washington D.C.  In fact, Washington has literally become the D.C. Stock Exchange of Power.  Leading politicians are not called “power brokers” for nothing.

As Thomas Jefferson warned in 1822, “…If ever this vast country is brought under a single government it will be one of the most extensive corruption….”  Corruption is the inevitable consequences of power, so it is axiomatic that the larger a government becomes, the more corrupt it gets.  It is not a coincidence that the Executive Orders signed by Barack Obama thus far, primarily benefit those who supported his election or that the “pork” bill masquerading as a “stimulus package” primarily benefits supporters of the Democratic Party.

The answer to limiting corruption in government is to limit its power.  This fundamental truth was recognized by the Founders in framing the Constitution.  That is why they established the doctrines of “enumerated powers“, and the “system of checks and balance”.  A certain equilibrium is maintained in the balance of power within the government because of competition between the three branches.  The same cannot be said for the doctrine of enumerated powers.  Here the contest is not between the three branches of government, but between those branches and the people.

We are in a period of exponential growth in government.  That growth will continue until the people realize the dangers involved and take the necessary steps to correct it.  Unless a correction is made, we cannot survive as a free people.  With the latest expansion of government, we are headed even faster in the direction of socialism.  Socialism is antithetical to liberty and freedom since it can only be administered through dictatorial control over the daily lives of its people.

If we are to avoid the destruction of free market capitalism and its replacement with a monolithic socialist state dictating every segment of our personal and private lives, we must take immediate steps to halt the growth of government.  Conservatives have been heartened in recent weeks by the seeming reawakening of the Republican Party.  The unanimous vote of the House Republicans against the destructive and irresponsible spending bill passed by the Democrats last week is an encouraging sign, but the reasons given publicly for Republican opposition do not indicate they yet understand the underlying problem.

According to the Associated Press, Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio complained about the excessive spending for Democratic programs and that the bill will not sufficiently stimulate the economy or produce enough jobs.  In addition, according to reports by AP, Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, says the bill must be stripped of its unnecessary spending and focused more on housing issues and tax cuts if it is to gain Republican support.  Other Republican lawmakers voiced similar views.

Meanwhile, Republican Governors are stepping up pressure on their Senators and Representatives to get the bill passed as soon as possible.  The National Governors Association has called on Congress to quickly pass the plan.  Even Governor Sarah Palin has trekked to Washington to press McConnell for Alaska’s share of the package.  Governors Charlie Crist, of Florida, Jim Douglas of Vermont and other Republican governors plan to make their support of the plan known in Washington this week.

This plan is shaping up to be a repeat of last year’s stimulus plan, which gave some $160 billion in “tax rebates” to citizens, many of which paid no income tax in the first place.  That bill was first defeated in the House but later passed both Houses with bipartisan support after some tinkering and compromises in conference that tossed some “goodies” to the Republicans.

The elephant in the room that is being conveniently avoided by both parties is the fact that Congress is not authorized by the Constitution to pass any part of the plan for the purposes stated.  Lawmakers on Capital Hill have always been reluctant to defend their positions based on the enumerated powers doctrine embodied in the Constitution.  Unless they recover from their shyness and take a principled position in defense of the Constitution this plan will become law.

There has been a bill brought before every Congress since 1997 by Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona.  The bill known as “The Enumerated Powers Act”, has gotten little support from Shadegg’s colleagues and no notice at all in the national media.  It would require that “all bills introduced in the U.S. Congress include a statement setting forth the specific constitutional authority under which the law is being enacted.”  As Congressman Shadegg points out on his website, “This measure will force a continual re-examination of the role of the national government, and will fundamentally alter the ever-expanding reach of the federal government.”

Some type of effort along this line is our best hope for reducing the size of government and putting it back under the control of the people. When it becomes common practice that a routine part of the floor debate on any bill includes a debate on its constitutionality we cannot help but see a vast improvement in the legislation brought before Congress.  However, Congressman Shadegg’s effort will not succeed without the focused support of citizens nationwide.

In addition to supporting the Enumerated Powers Act, we need to hold our individual Congressmen and Senators accountable for any legislation they sponsor, co-sponsor or support.  We can do this by making it a habit to call, write or e-mail our representatives and asking a very simple question; “Which article in the Constitution authorizes the enactment of this legislation?”  If enough citizens take this minimal step, it will force our representatives to consider the Constitutionality of every vote they cast.  If a campaign of this type were continued for a long enough time, we would see the discussion of constitutionality a routine part of Congressional debate, and media coverage as well.

In the end, as the old adage says, we get the kind of government we deserve, either because of neglect, a desire for personal benefits at the expense of our fellow citizens, or a genuine desire to put the welfare of the country and the welfare of future generations before all else.  Our future is up to us.

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