Taxes And The National Debt

TAXES  and  THE NATIONAL DEBT

The Case For Recalling The GOP Congressional Delegation

 "The enormous extension of bank credits during the three years before the breakdown of 1837 was rather the symptom than the cause of the disease.  The fever of speculation was in the veins of the community before the "killing" began.  Bank officers dwelt in the same atmosphere as did other Americans, and their sanguine extravagance in turn stimulated the universal temper of speculation."
-Edward M. Shephard, Life of Martin van Buren, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Co., 1888)

"Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it."
George Santayana, "Reason in Common Sense," The Life of Reason, Vol. 1.

"Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Carr, 1849

                There are two Constitutional provisions which expressly refer to the current partisan debate over how to balance the budget of the United States.  The first is the tax clause which gives Congress the power to levy taxes and states the reasons for which taxes can be levied.

 "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; . . ."  - Constitution of the United States of America, Article I, Sect.8.

Here, in the very first Article of the Constitution, there are three specifically enumerated purposes for Congress to exercise the power to tax: to defend America; to provide for the general welfare; and to pay the debts of the United States.  There is nothing anywhere in the Constitution about using tax policy for corporate welfare.

          It might be argued that is not appropriate to raise taxes for specific wars, like Viet Nam or Iraq which in fact  had nothing to do with the common defense of  the United States.  It might also be argued that it is not appropriate to raise taxes for a specific social spending program that has nothing to do with promoting the general welfare of We the People, like the $21 billion in oil subsidies the Congressional Super Committee has left undisturbed.  Raising taxes to pay the national debt, however, is not open to any reasonable debate.

            Payment of our public debt is, in fact, expressly mentioned again as a Congressional mandate, in the Fourteenth Amendment, as follows:

           "The validity of the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned." 

Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment XIV, Sect. 4. The only method specified in the Constitution for meeting this express mandate is for Congress to raise revenues, i.e. to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises." 

            There is no provision specifically authorizing the reallocation of revenues collected for other purposes, such as defense or the general welfare, after Congress has voted to lay and collect taxes for those purposes.  That's called robbing Peter to pay Paul.  There is clearly no Constitutional basis for meeting the express mandate to pay our national debt by selling off public property to private investors as some regressive right-wing Republicans have suggested.  That's nothing but fire sale economic policy.

           Congress cannot, under the mandate of the 14th Amendment, Sect. 4,  simply neglect payment of the national debt, and the  Constitution gives Congress only one specific power to fulfill that mandate -by raising revenues specifically for that purpose.  The same is true for raising an army to defend America or for funding programs for the general welfare of all Americans, like the interstate highway system.  That power is clearly and and unequivocally stated as the "power to lay and collect taxes," period!

          There are also two oaths which American Congressmen have taken recently which have a direct impact on this issue.  The first is the Congressional Oath of Office which all Congressmen must take:

 I, . . . , do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the  office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”  - Congressional Oath of Office, 5 U.S.C. 3331, Sect. 2.

The Constitution, at Article VI,  expressly provides that all members of Congress, shall, by such an oath or affirmation, be bound to support the Constitution.  That, in turn,  leaves no room for subscribing to any other oath or pledge that curtails the Congressman's full exercise of the powers granted in the Constitution, for the purposes stated there, when conducting the business of the United States on behalf of We the People.

           The second oath relevant to this issue is the so-called "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" that most if not all Republicans have signed, along with only two Democrats.  It reads as follows:

"I, . . . , pledge to the taxpayers of the (. . . district of the state of . . . and to the American People that I will:

ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and businesses; and

TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing taxes."

Grover Norquist, "Taxpayer Protection Pledge"  The perceptive and intelligent reader will readily comprehend the stark contradiction between these two pledges.  

         The Oath of Office requires every Congressman to "bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, and and to "well and faithfully discharge the duties" of the office of Congressman or Senator.  Those duties specifically include honoring the national debt, as stated in the 14th Amendment, and to do so by using the power to lay and collect taxes expressly granted to Congress in Article I, Sect. 8.  In taking the oath of office, they have sworn to be acting as the embodiment of the Government of the United States, i.e. the "big" federal government.  Here, the bigger the debt, the bigger the federal government has to be in order to pay.

           Norquists' "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," however, in addition to being inanely and mindlessly simplistic, expressly binds the person taking it to disregard the express mandate of the 14th Amendment, Sect. 4, to honor the debts of the United States by using the only power expressly granted for that purpose, the power to raise revenues through taxation.  Therefore, the Member who takes office having taken the Norquist pledge does so, specifically, with a "mental reservation or purpose of evasion" as to the only power expressly granted in the Constitution to carry out one of its primary mandates.

          Here, taking the Norquist pledge violates the Constitutionally required Oathof Office because it expressly prohibits the Congressman from using the only powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to honor the national debt.  It is also highly relevant, in this context, that the acknowledged purpose of this restriction, in Norquist's own words, is to "starve the beast" of our big federal government.

          The issue for Norquist and his sworn disciples in Congress is not simply easing the tax burden on us plain folks on Main Street.  It is, rather, to eliminate all regulatory restraints on "free market" capitalism, the same deregulated capitalism that caused the crash of 2008, at liberty to operate without effective restraints on the financial markets.

          That is the same deregulated capitalism that has allowed a "free market" shift over the past thirty years from a GDP based largely on manufacturing, with finance hovering around 10 percent, to one based on finance as its most significant sector with manufacturing hovering around 10 percent.  That shift is what has transferred the labor force into the low-paying non-union service sector as it continues to send productive manufacturing jobs overseas.   That shift, in turn, is what left the economy as a whole so vulnerable to collapse based solely on the failure of a single sector such as housing.  

        That, however,  is exactly what the Congressional Republicans want to perpetuate, a weak federal government that lets private business and financial interests run the economy in their own self-interest.  More frankly stated, today's GOP seeks to perpetuate rule by a corporate oligarchy.

        The Republican "free market"  ideology is based on the repeatedly failed theory that markets "police themselves" to benefit society as a whole, contrary to the all too often demonstrated fact that bad money drives out good money, and that is always creates economic ruin.  This has happened repeatedly in our relatively brief national history, in 1837, in 1873, in 1893, in 1929 and again in 2008, and always as a result of the same, insane trust in the ability of unregulated free markets to correct themselves based on nothing but the profit driven self-interest of the rich and very rich. 

           The Panic of 1837 was the inevitable result of "small" federal government under Jackson that simply let the financial markets run amok.  As described by Edward M. Shephard in his Martin van Buren biography, that first major crash of the American economy, with the closing of 900 banks and widespread unemployment, was driven by unregulated speculation fueled by all that "free market" wisdom that today's GOP wants to put in charge of the economy once again.

           As a Democrat, van Buren responded to the crisis he inherited from Jackson's laissez faire economic policies by advocating a "big" government solution.  Van Buren promoted an independent federal treasury to control all federal funds and to issue specie as legal tender.  He also got the Bank Safety Act passed in 1840, another "big" government federal regulation to provide insurance for bank deposits.  That law was repealed by a "small government" Whig Congress a year later.

           The financial-sector Panic of 1837 was repeated again in 1873, and that was superseded by the Panic of 1893 which resulted  from an industrial-sector bubble involving the overbuilding and undercapitalization of railroads. That, as everyone knows, was superseded by the Crash of 1929 which, again, resulted from "free market" self-regulation in finance, without any effective "big government" regulatory oversight.  Plus ca change . . . .  The more things change, the more they are the same.

            FDR's "big government" response to the Great Depression during the 1930s was to build up the  federal government's regulatory authority over the economy, as a bulwark against the economic anarchy of that repeatedly failed "free market" economic theory,  the same repeatedly failed theory which today's ideologically addled GOP is so fervently trying to push on us again.   As Santayana said, and Burke before him, those who forget the hard lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.

           Thus, the GOP began its latest ideological assault on us average Americans by pushing the veto-proof repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, undoing one of FDR's important barriers against corporate financial fraud, and it thereby laid the groundwork for the crash of 2008.  The repeal of Glass-Steagall removed the regulatory prohibition against selling mortgages as securities, which FDR and the Democrats enacted specificallyto prevent another crash driven by "free market" speculation.

          That deregulatory repeal of Glass-Steagall was not the direct cause per se of the Crash in 2008, but it did remove an effective prophylactic that had worked well for over eighty years against the virulent, unregulated corporate greed that caused the crash in 1929.  It was in fact the necessary condition that let Big Finance screw us all once again. 

           The repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 let the the Bush administration's aggressive anti-regulators hit the ground running to help Wall Street investment bankers, in cahoots with unscrupulous sub-prime mortgage lenders and the unregulated ratings agencies, rob borrowers and small investors alike all over America.  It was a massive, nation-wide scam based on the deregulated  sale of creatively fraudulent mortgage "products," written solely to be passed off to unsuspecting investors after the lender took huge up front generating fees from the borrowers and the Wall Street crooks used fraudulent AAA ratings from agencies like S&P and Moody's to  gouge huge sales commissions from the investors.            

          Restoring and perpetuating that kind of pro-business anti-regulation to benefit the corporate elite in the financial sector, at the expense of consumers and small investors alike, is exactly what Norquist means when he says the elimination of federal taxes will "starve the beast" of big federal government.  His purpose, and the purpose of his anti-tax pledge, is to deprive the federal government of the revenue needed to staff the regulatory agencies that protect the public. 

          Norquist, and his fellow GOP ideologues, don't really care about us small taxpayers who in their view should continue to pay a disproportionate share of the subsidies given to Big Oil for drilling, and the contracts given to defense contractors to provide materiels and services that are not needed for our common defense.  Their purpose is solely to deprive our government of the resouces nececcary to monitor and limit the profit-driven excesses of the corporate elite.  That, precisely, is what the overwhelmingly Republican contingent in Congress intends when it swears to Norquist's anti-tax pledge, i.e. to negate the federal government as an effective force in our economy and our general welfare.

           That is also  where taking Norquist's pledge violates the Congressional oath of office.  It is putting an ideological belief, the embodiment of a "mental reservation or purpose of evasion," in service of the corporate elite ahead of the decidedly pragmatic business a Congressman is elected to conduct in office for We the People collectively.  That business includes the regulation of commerce as expressly granted in Article I of the Constitution, in addition to paying the national debt, providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare of all of us, to be achieved by using the expressly granted power to "lay and collect taxes."

         There is no recall provision in the Constitution of the United States.  There is an impeachment clause in Article I, Sect. 3, but that would in this instance require  a majority of Congressmen to make a quasi judicial determination of criminality against a large contingent of their own.  That could only result in farce of the highest order,  second only to the current GOP presidential primary debates, and it would with good reason be dismissed as futile partisan posturing should  it be presented by any Democrat.

          There are, however, recall procedures set out in the laws of  eighteen states.  Those procedures have worked most successfully over the years for the recall of corrupt state officials , but  have never been used to recall a U.S. Congressman or Senator.  That, however, does not mean that it cannot or should not be done.

         While there is no recall provision in the U.S. Constitution, there is no express prohibition either.  Meanwhile, the mechanism for electing U.S. Congressmen and Senators, the time, place and manner of holding elections, is expressly delegated to the state legislatures, not the federal government, under Article I, Sect. 4.  The election  per se of the members is subject to review in each House, under Article I,, Sect. 5, but that is not a prohibition against state recall and in this context would at most only permit Congressional review of a recall election, as with any direct election.          

         Since the power to recall Members of Congress is not delegated to the federal government anywhere in the Constitution, and since it is nowhere prohibited to the states, it is clearly a power reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment.  It is a power closely analogous and wholly consistent with the power expressly granted to the states in Article I, Sect. 4, to prescribe the time, place and manner of electing Congressmen and Senators, and it is therefore wholly within the power of any state legislature that chooses to pursue it.

          Unfortunately, Massachusetts does not have a state-wide recall procedure, and Senator Scott Brown will therefore have to be removed by the normal electoral process next November.  Wisconsin, however, has a very broad recall statute, which can be applied for removal of  "any elective official" and requires only the filing of a citizen petition with the same electoral official or agency with which the officeholder's original nomination papers were filed. 

        Wisconsin's recall procedure is not restricted to any specific cause, and it would therefore be the ideal state for filing such a petition to establish the validity of the procedure, by recalling  Rep. Paul Ryan for having signed the Norquist anti-tax pledge.  Ryan himself is on record as saying that the single most significant influence on his approach to government is none other than Ayn Rand:  Here's a direct quote:

"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person,  it would be Ayn Rand."    

Rand, meanwhile, has offered this not too subtle, hostile opinion as to the role of "big government"  regulation of economics:

"When I say 'capitalism,' I mean pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism- with a separation of economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as a separation of church and state."

"The Objectivist Ethic" from  The Virtue of Selfishness., 1961.  Again, the significance of this connection will be readily seen by the more perceptive and intelligent reader who understands the federal government's essential Constitutional role in promoting the general welfare through economic activity, including regulation. 

         When Ryan took office, having taken the Norquist pledge, he clearly did so with a huge "mental reservation" as to using his power as a Member of Congress to fulfill the clearly stated governmental purposes of  promoting the general welfare and paying the national debt.  Those two purposes, clearly stated in the tax clause, are inextricably involved with economic policy.

           Rand's express advocacy for a pure and unqualified "free market" capitalism, however, calls for a complete separation of government from economics. It is the objective expressed by Grover Norquist, to "starve the beast" of the big federal government by depriving it of revenues, and that is the clear objective of the anti-tax pledge which Ryan and almost all other GOP Congressmen have signed. 

          It is also, beyond any doubt, contrary to the Constitutional powers, and concomitant obligation of Congress to regulate  commerce and to use its powers of regulation, and taxation, to promote the general welfare as one of the basic purposes of the federal government spelled out in the Preamble. The "general welfare" of  We the People certainly includes, if nothing else, our collective economic well-being, and to that end the Constitution gives Congress plenary powers to control the economy.

         Article I, Sect. 8, gives Congress the specific powers to regulate interstate commerce, to regulate incoming trade in the ports of every state, to establish uniform rules for bankruptcy throughout the United States, to coin money, to fix the standard of weights and measures, to establish post offices and post roads, to promote the progress of science and "useful arts" under copyrights and patents and "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers."   

        All that involvement with the economy as expressly set out in the Constitution, specifically for the collective benefit of We the People, is what Ayn Rand's "objectivist" philosophy opposes, and that opposition is precisely what Republicans like Ryan, and Massachusetts' own Scott Brown, have sworn to in signing the Norquist anti-tax pledge for the express purpose of "starving the beast."  In Ryan's case, he has expressly acknowledged the influence of Ayn Rand's anti-Constitutional economic beliefs on his legisltative agenda.

        That anti-tax pledge Ryan signed  is thus clearly a direct contradiction of his Congressional Oath of Office.  It is an express repudiation of Congress' plenary powers to regulate and to tax  under the Constitution and the clearly stated collective purposes for those powers of regulation and taxation.  Adherence to the Norquist pledge in debate or in voting should therefore be cause for recall of any Member of Congress who has signed it representing any state with a recall procedure on the books.

        Given Ryan's vociferous advocacy of the regressive Republican anti-tax, anti-government ideology, in conjuction with his having signed the Norquist pledge, the perfect place to start filing a Congressional recall petition will be Ryan's First Wisconsin Congressional District.  Are you listening, Wisconsin?

CapeCodToday.com welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on CapeCodToday.com.