...for a change:
New York Times Friday, March 20, 2009 Editorial "Political Animal Behavior 101"
"Congress is regularly mocked for earmarking taxpayer money to study exotic life cycles; this year’s favorite target is the Mormon cricket’s pestilential threat to agriculture in Utah. Too bad the Capitol has no appetite to study the ultimate in symbiotic survival: the relationship between campaign donors and the customized appropriations they are fed by grateful lawmakers.
"Democratic leaders in the House have been swatting back Representative Jeff Flake as if he were a Mormon cricket as he repeatedly proposes that the ethics committee start a
cause-and-effect study of earmarking and campaign money. Mr. Flake, a Republican from Arizona who is an earmark battler, is now calling on the committee to investigate the large donations to defense appropriators made by the PMA Group, the lobbying
powerhouse that recently shut itself down after an F.B.I. raid over election-law violations.
"Mr. Flake has picked the right place to start the investigating: some of the PMA Group’s lobbyists learned their craft as staffers in the appropriations subcommittee led by
Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Once in the free-enterprise zone, the PMA Group scored numerous defense earmarks and doled out generous gifts to Mr. Murtha and other subcommittee members.
"This relationship cries out for an ethics inquiry. And we are pleased that Mr. Flake is refusing to be discouraged by his colleagues’ lack of courage. He reports that he picks up a few more supporters with each new challenge to the House ways of doing business. Mr. Flake is now bolstered by Peter Visclosky, a top Democrat on appropriations who announced after the F.B.I. raid that he’s returning $271,000 in donations from the PMA
"Mr. Visclosky has endorsed Mr. Flake’s quest, urging fellow Democratic leaders to push for an investigation of how the PMA Group’s clout worked. Of course, everyone on the Hill already knows the answer. But the best hope of ending this cynical influence trading is for the taxpayers to hear the full and shameful truth."
Sunday, March 22, 2009 4:40 AM
The New York Times deserves as much commendation for their Friday, March 20, 2009 Editorial "Political Animal Behavior 101" as its subjects, Congressmen Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, and Peter Visclosky, Indiana Democrat, for their David-like attack on Congressional earmarks. But your closing comment "the best hope of ending this cynical influence trading is for the taxpayers to hear the full and shameful truth," well-meaning as it is, from past experience is not real encouraging.
The solution is found looking upstream, in this case at the 2009 Statistical Abstract of the United States, that says in 2007, 65.64% of the total federal income that year ($2.568 trillion) was 'withheld' by employers from employee paychecks. 'Withheld' is a euphamism for the entire amount coming into the feds as checks on employer bank accounts and immediately deposited to the US general fund, no better demonstrated than the fact that if any of those checks fail to arrive, it is the employer who goes to jail, never the employee.
The employers are not real happy with this, but 1) they don't have enough votes to complain, and 2) unlike the employee, they can pass it on to customers, which has worked just fine for 75 years of a regularly expanding national economy. So 535 people control 2/3 of the federal income that no one cares about, to the exteant of needing to take it out of their personal accounts and send it in. Result: earmarks. No number of editorials or letters to congress creatures has had any effect in the 66 years it has been going on.
There is an way to fix this. Get 218 members of the House of Representatives and 60 Senators, and an agreeable president to sign it in to law, and change paragraph 3402 of United States Code Title 26 — 'Internal Revenue Code' Subtitle C 'Employment taxes' Chapter 24 'Collection Of Income Tax At Source On Wages... from "every employer making payment of wages shall deduct and withhold upon such wages a tax..." to "every employer making payment of wages shall pay all of those wages to the employee...." Leave the tax calculation with the employer so that with the check they include a stern note telling the employee how much the feds are expecting him to send in within 30 days. Would it be easy to do? Probably not all at once, but a good place for the "frog in boiling water' technique: over a three-month quarter convert the 0.1 percent of the population w/ names starting with 'x' to a new, real 'pay-as-you-go' system, add in a new letter every quarter for 26 quarters, thru the 20% of the population w/ names starting with M and S.
Would this be inefficient? Certainly for an insatiable federal bureaucracy, but instructive for a growing portion of the electorate, sending in sizable checks every month from their own bank accounts. Questions would arise: Is the federal level the best to run health care? Education? retirement? What did the founders think of this approach? Apparently not much, since they not only didn't authorize it in the Constitution, but in fact wrote specifically prohibiting it. Little did they envision their add-on 'general welfare' clause being beaten within an inch of its life, finally threatening the very existence of the country.
Those 26 quarters would cover three elections of the House of Representatives, reelection of the entire Senate, and election of a president. People would be asking the candidates these questions, and voting on the answers. And congresscreatures would forget how to spell 'earmark', let alone use it. This is the only way the voters will ever unnderstand "the full and shameful truth" of why congress throws money around.
Arnold H. Nelson
5056 North Marine Drive Chicago IL
Just after I sent that, I sent the following to some friends:
What a breakthru!
I just sent a letter to the NYTimes where I used the sentence "Little did they [the Founders] envision their add-on 'general welfare' clause being beaten within an inch of its life, finally threatening the very existence of the country."
I been wanting to use it for a long time, but today decided to find out how true it was.
So I went to the Federalist papers. I have them on my HD (192K words) and can search just fine, but recently acquired a new research tool: A 700 page paperback, $8 from Amazon, "The Federalist Papers, by Clinton Rossiter." Apparently Mr. Rossiter lived, breathed, and slept w/ the Papers for the last 40 years of his life (I think ended by suicide not too long ago, unfortunately.)
I look in the index and find "'general welfare' clause," pointing to James Madison's Federalist #41, where St. James himself writes:
"Some [Constitution critics] who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power ``to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,'' amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare....
"Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it.... A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms ``to raise money for the general welfare.'' But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon?" [Me: !!!!!]
I'm finally catching on, so go directly to US Constitution (also on HD) Article One Section Eight. And there's that semicolon, separating the infamous 'general welfare' Clause 1 from clauses 2 thru 18:
Clause 1: 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;
Clause 2: To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
Clause 3: To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
Clause 4: To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
Clause 5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
Clause 6: To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
Clause 7: To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
Clause 8: 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;
Clause 9: To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
Clause 10: To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
Clause 11: To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
Clause 12: To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
Clause 13: To provide and maintain a Navy;
Clause 14: To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
Clause 15: To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
Clause 16: To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
Clause 17: To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;--
And Clause 18: To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."
Mw again: I've read those 17 clauses many times, but have never found anything remotely requiring executive departments of Energy ($20bn in 2007,) Homeland Security ($39bn,) Housing and Urban Development ($45bn,) Labor ($48bn,) Transportation ($62bn,) Education ($66bn,) Agriculture ($84bn,) and Health and Human Services ($672bn.)