US Government Spending As Percent of GDP

usgovernmentspending.com
2012

With every war, expansion of government powers or extension of social benefits comes an increase in government spending (often measured in percent of gross domestic product). Often used as a test to compare the size and involvement of government in everyday lives; this graph shows that the looser interpretations of "general welfare" has brought about larger government.

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In this article McCluskey lays out the changes in the interpretation of the General Welfare Clause, as well as what a literal interpretation would look like in the modern era. As he points out:

"Article I, Section 8 lists the few -- and only -- powers belonging to the federal government. They include the power to borrow money,...

"According to Crosskey, Madison was duplicitous: Publicly, Madison proclaimed that the General Welfare Clause is merely a synonym for the enumerated powers considered collectively, not an independent source of power. But privately, Madison believed that the General Welfare Clause delegates to the Congress plenary legislative power; that the enumeration of specific...

One of the most publicized and recent uses of the "general welfare" language has been in the passage of the health care bill. Although initially President Obama had declared that it would not result in any new taxes, he'd been forced to recant that position in order to defend its constitutionality under Article I, Section 8.

"...

"If we're going to save this nation for our children, if we're going to be able to leave them even the possibility of a better life than we've had, we must start now and we must start by returning to the actual meaning of the Constitution as it stands in black letters on parchment as the touchstone for all that government is allowed to do -- and more importantly,...

"House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that the individual health insurance mandates included in every health reform bill, which require Americans to have insurance, were 'like paying taxes.' He added that Congress has 'broad authority' to force Americans to purchase other things as well, so long as it was trying to promote 'the general welfare.'

...

Lawson comments on the growth of power in federal government over time, noting the first encounters with the "general welfare" language post-1788. He namely highlights the Savannah, Georgia fire and Congress' intervention for aid. Since there were no enumerated powers allowing the government to "rebuild a torched city", the legislators had to look through the scope...

"The phrase 'general welfare' appears twice in the Constitution -- first in the preamble (which grants no authority to Congress, but simply states the broad objectives underlying the Constitution), and second in Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 (the "Spending Clause"). Both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton viewed the phrase as a limitation on the spending power, one that was intended to make...

"Like old-growth timber succumbing to a band of lumberjacks, incumbent Democrats in Congress crashed to Earth in record numbers Tuesday night. Where there's been a steady call for politicians to 'do something' about the economy, about jobs, about Wall Street, about the environment, about everything, at least one Congressional district showed that they want '...

"Remember the Cornhusker Kickback? In a frantic effort to move ObamaCare through the Senate last December, the following provision was added to the bill: Nebraska was given a $100 million exemption to cover the costs of the bill's dramatic expansion of Medicaid. The special exemption was ultimately dropped during reconciliation, but not only because of the public...

"Over on the Think Progress blog, Ian Millhiser accuses Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of never having read the Constitution. His grounds for the accusation? Coburn, citing Jefferson, doesn't think that the Constitution gives the federal government authority to provide such things as Pell Grants and student loans.

This might be a...

In this commentary, Armey argues that the founding fathers envisioned a country with limited government and taxation, submitting that that is not the case today.

"Our Founding Fathers designed a constitutional system based on the rule of law to protect the individual from an overbearing federal government. The government was to...

"We Americans find ourselves faced with the disquieting specter of a five trillion dollar national debt, a sum truly inconceivable. Many economists and politicians tell us this debt portends a disastrous financial collapse in the future and we worry. Once debt free, we are now the largest debtor nation in the world and as we find ourselves on the precipice we are...

"Once President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress have passed a health care reform bill, conservative groups are likely to challenge parts of it as unconstitutional, arguing that it oversteps Congress's powers. A key target will be the individual mandate, which is designed to coax uninsured persons into purchasing insurance.

...

"Numerous lawmakers embrace a discredited theory of the Constitution that would not only end Medicare outright but also cause countless other cherished programs to be declared unconstitutional. Under this theory, Pell Grants, federal student loans, food stamps, federal disaster relief, Medicaid, income assistance for the poor, and even Social Security must all be eliminated as offensive to the...

"With a reformer's zeal, President Bush is plunging into federally funded faith-based charity. He says it will be less costly and more effective than programs run by government bureaucrats. Probably so. But apart from the dispute over separation of church and state, there's a compelling constitutional case against federal welfare programs, no matter who administers...

"When Members of the 112th Congress took the oath of office just over a month ago, the leaders of the House brought new meaning to their duty to 'support and defend the Constitution.' As promised in their 'Pledge to America,' they passed a rule requiring members to cite the specific constitutional authority in each bill they propose. In passing the Constitutional...

This article addresses state-constitutional challenges to the recently passed healthcare overhaul bill. The piece displays the arguments over whether the mandate is legal under the "general welfare" clause and if the resistance of the states holds legal water.

"Americans are beginning to question the constitutionality of proposed programs such as government run health care. In response to these challenges, a misinterpretation of the 'General Welfare' clause seems to be the common support for such Federal programs. This article examines what the General Welfare clause actually means."

"The commitment to promote the general welfare of all persons, as opposed to protecting the interests of a narrow section or class of the population, encapsulates what is most unique about the United States of America--that it is the only modern nation-state republic founded on this principle."

Chart or Graph

This graph shows that the looser interpretations of "general welfare" has brought about larger government.

Analysis Report White Paper

"On September 17, 1787, 39 men signed the U.S. Constitution. Each year since 2004 we have celebrated Constitution Day as a result of legislation, fathered by Senator Robert Byrd, that requires federal agencies and every school that receives federal funds, including universities, to have some kind of program on the Constitution. I cannot think of a more deceitful...

"Perhaps no other clause in the Constitution generated as much debate among the Founders as the 'Spending Clause'—the first of the 18 powers granted to Congress under Article I, Section 8. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, the principal authors of The Federalist, famously disagreed about the meaning of 'general Welfare' and the limits to Congress's spending...

This paper analyzes the history of the "General Welfare" Clause and the power growth in government over time. It highlights key battles, opinions and moments in history with regards to the clause and enumerated powers. 

"In the early years, measures to expand government's powers beyond those enumerated in the Constitution...

"As I have shown previously, the 'general Welfare' limitation was one of a number of provisions inserted to impose fiduciary-style rules on the new federal government—in this case the duty of impartiality. This Article explores the fiduciary law of the founding generation to determine whether it was part of the constitutional design for the Judiciary to review...

"Today, when a president looks at a spending bill that has passed Congress, he typically asks, 'How will this help my party gain votes?' and 'What interest groups will this bring to my side?' Sometimes, when modern presidents are more philosophical, they ask, 'Will this spending help the economy, or advance the nation's interests?'

...

"Our modern regulatory and redistributive state--the state the Framers sought explicitly to prohibit--has arisen largely since 1937, and primarily through just two clauses in the Constitution, the commerce clause and the general welfare clause, respectively. It is striking that this is so, for if the Framers had meant for Congress to be able to do virtually...

This report analyzes the differences between the two Constitutions of the  North and the South, also reporting on the elimination of the "General Welfare" Clause.

"The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to 'lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises...

"In sum, then, it is most unlikely that the makers of the Constitution would have chosen the phrase, 'general welfare,' to authorize the federal government to provide what they understood to be poor relief. It would have violated both their understanding of the meaning of words and the common practice as to what level of government should provide the relief. On the...

Professor Natelson examines the original understanding of the "'General Welfare Clause'—the Constitutional clause generally held to support federal spending programs and their associated requirements. Natelson rejects, as textually and/or historically flawed, the understandings of the Clause as a plenary grant of regulatory and spending power, a plenary grant of...

"Starting in 2014, the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, P.L. 111-148) will require most U.S. residents to purchase health insurance or pay a financial 'penalty' to the government. This provision, popularly called the individual mandate, is the linchpin of some of the PPACA's most significant reforms. Many commentators have argued...

This report highlights the New Deal's primary opponents on the left and their constitutional qualms with the legislation. The analysis provided shows that opposition or support for government expansion for the "general welfare" isn't necessarily partisan. One may recall that the halls of Congress used to be...

"The growth of government has politicized life and weakened the nation' moral fabric. Government intervention—in the economy, in the community, and in society—has increased the payoff from political action and reduced the scope of private action. People have become more dependent on the State and have sacrificed freedom for a false sense of security.

...

Adams discusses the history of American sentiments towards taxation before and after the signing of the Constitution, also elaborating on the restrictions of the General Welfare clause:

"The 'general Welfare' clause was also held up to be a restriction on government spending. It did not mean anything in general, quite to the...

"Even the staunchest free trader might reluctantly concede that the apparatus of protectionism—tariffs, import quotas, and anti-dumping duties—is constitutional because clause 3 of Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution delegates to Congress 'power...to regulate commerce with foreign nations...'

Before we make too hasty a...

"Today the Federal government is very large and very powerful. Its annual budget exceeds the national income of the United Kingdom. The number of Federal employees is about the same as the entire population of Kansas. A host of government legislation, programs, and regulations affects Americans' lives. There are separate Federal departments to oversee agriculture,...

Video/Podcast/Media

In this lecture, Woods describes the problems of designing welfare programs without problematic consequences, and the socially detrimental outcomes that many of the Great Society programs have produced.

In this modern era the line between information, art and technology continue to blur. Utilizing the most cutting-edge statistics, Bachman provides a comprehensive budget analysis in poster format.

In Federalist No. 41, Madison addresses both the concerns of explosive military spending and federal spending (under the general...

"There has recently been a resurgence in support of the 10th Amendment by the 'Tenthers' in the recent wave of government expansions, especially with the recent passage of the healthcare overhaul. Roger Pilon gives a brief history of what the Constitution was originally intended to accomplish, and how that paradigm changed in the 1930s. Since the New Deal the...

"Probably the most misunderstood clause in the Constitution is the General Welfare clause. Once again, we use logic to determine the meaning of the clause and how it should be properly applied."

This video is part of a question and answer session with Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, senior judicial analyst for Fox News and host of the television program, Freedom Watch, on the Fox Business Network. 

If you fast-forward to the 1:16 mark in this video, Judge Napolitano provides a very succinct explanation of...

"Down on the boardwalk, we interview a few young Americans to find out what they know about the Constitution of the United States. Can you answer the questions? Does it matter?"

"We ask moms on the street what they know about the Constitution. Can you answer the questions? Does it matter?"

Primary Document

In this treatise on the Constitution, David Ramsey provides his own interpretation of the General Welfare, clashing with the view held by men such as Alexander Hamilton.

"When you authorised Congress to borrow money, and to contract debts, for carrying on the late war, you could not intend to abridge them of the means of paying...

Noah Webster examines the roots of the Federal Constitution. He cites virtue as one of the most important factors.

This treatise, originally published anonymously, indirectly expounds on Noah Webster's view of Congressional power in regards to the General Welfare. Webster says,

"Every person, capable of reading, must discover, that the convention have labored to draw the line between the federal and provincial powers—to define the powers of...

This Supreme Court case ruled that election campaign contributions are a protected form of free speech, however, the court also said that spending limits on political campaigns are indeed constitutional.

This case is significant because the Supreme Court summed up the modern understanding of the General Welfare clause in its...

James Kent was an American legal scholar. Widely popular, his Commentaries consist of a series of lectures on the history of law, the American Constitution, federal and municipal law, and laws concerning persons and property.

Thomas Paine shows the common understanding of the term General Welfare. In Paine's list of rights, the phrase, "General Welfare" is paired with the phrase "Public Needs," implying that the two phrases are conceptually linked. During the time period of the writing of the Constitution, it was understood that General Welfare referred solely to the welfare of the...

In this paper, which would later be assembled in The Federalist Papers, Madison explains to the Constitutional Opponents that the "General Welfare Clause" does not provide an unrestrained, vast reservoir of power for Congress. He shows that in that case there would be no need for a commerce clause or interstate...

From the Social Security Administration's "Background to the Case":

"The fact that workers contribute to the Social Security program's funding through a dedicated payroll tax establishes a unique connection between those tax payments and future benefits. More so than general federal income taxes can be said to...

"I herewith return without approval Senate bill No. 139, entitled 'An act to credit and pay to the several States and Territories and the District of Columbia all moneys collected under the direct tax levied by the act of Congress approved August 5, 1861.'"

"Any doubt remaining after Butler as to the scope of the General Welfare Clause was dispelled a year later in Helvering. There the Court defended the constitutionality of the 1935 Social Security Act, requiring only that welfare spending be for the common benefit as distinguished from some mere local purpose. Justice Benjamin Cardozo...

A letter from James Madison which discusses the General Welfare clause of the Constitution.

"In short, sir, without going farther into the subject. Which I should not have here touched at all but for the reasons already mentioned, I venture to declare it as my opinion, that, 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...

In the 12th chapter of the book, Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated, John Taylor outlines his opinions and constitutional views regarding the General Welfare and the Congressional power to regulate Commerce.

Hamilton argues that "general Welfare" in the Constitution provides for an expansion beyond the enumerated powers.

"The terms 'general Welfare' were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported in those which Preceded; otherwise numerous exigencies incident to the affairs of a Nation would have...

This document provides unique insight into American constitutional views in the 19th century, having fully eliminated the "General Welfare" Clause and any language referring to "General Welfare." Many anti-federalists and especially those in the south believed that the "ticking-time-bomb" of the Clause would eventually lead to further infringements by the federal...

"The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution is a five-volume collection compiled by Jonathan Elliot in the mid-nineteenth century. The volumes remain the best source for materials about the national government's transitional period between the closing of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787 and the opening of the First Federal Congress...

"The Federalist Papers were a series of articles written under the pen name of Publius by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Madison, widely recognized as the Father of the Constitution, would later go on to become President of the United States. Jay would become the first Chief Justice of the US...

"This enumerated power allegedly allows federal regulation of markets because the Preamble to the Constitution reads, in part 'We the people of the United States, in order to ... promote the general welfare ... do ordain and establish this Constitution' and because Article I Section 8 has similar language also in the initial paragraph of that section.

But...

The Constitution of the United States established the federal governmental system currently in place with three branches of government. The premise of executive privilege developed from the separation of powers clause.

"This pamphlet was first published anonymously in London, in the year 1760. At that time the war with France was about coming to a close, and the politicians were fruitful in their speculations on the terms of peace, particularly after Canada had fallen into the hands of the British, by the brilliant victory of Wolfe at Quebec. It was a question much discussed, whether Canada should be...

"In Butler, the Court struck down the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which taxed processors in order to pay farmers to reduce production. Although invalidating the statute, the Court adopted the Hamiltonian view (almost in passing) that the General Welfare Clause is a separate grant of congressional authority, linked to and qualified by the spending power...

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