The Constitution also requires that it "promote the general welfare".
Greger, our government is supposed to promote the general Welfare in the way it's author James Madison said. Here is what Madison said about it.
"If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress... Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America."
The general Welfare clause does not give our government carte blanche spending power.
Two notes here that I think are very important. First, while that quote of James Madison is correct, it was a) not the last word on the subject (in fact, he lost the argument to Hamilton
, who "argued for a broad interpretation which viewed spending as an enumerated power
Congress could exercise independently to benefit the general welfare. Hamilton's view prevailed during the administrations of Presidents Washington and Adams," (Wikipedia) and, ultimately, informed the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Butler
, consistent with Justice Story's 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
. See also, Helvering v. Davis
(1937), which upheld the Social Security Act; and South Dakota v. Dole
(1987) validating a Spending Clause application that withheld a portion of federal highway funding from States that did not maintain a 21yo drinking age.), nor b) was he the final authority on the Constitution, as many would have one believe - he produced the first draft which was greatly modified during the constitutional debates.
Finally, I agree with the statement that "The general Welfare clause does not give our government carte blanche
spending power" - but neither did Hamilton (or virtually anyone else) ever argue that
. There is still a requirement that any spending be for "the General Welfare", but, at the same time, Congress is given great deference in making that judgment. The context, grammar and logic of Article I, section 8, cl. 1 militates toward the view that it is an independent authority, just as national defense is.
I appreciate the argument, and the historical basis for it, but that argument was lost immediately upon the passage of the Constitution, and has not been "the law of the land" for nearly a century. Of course, given the makeup of the current SCOTUS, it is entirely possible that they would overturn or simply ignore a century or more of contrary precedents and go back to the Madisonian view.
[I note that some of these points were already made while I was drafting this post.]