FEMA's Competence Is Not the Issue, It's Illegality Should Be Discussed
September 15, 2005
The cable news networks are covering the hurricane Katrina tragedy meticulously, and some interesting analysis is the result. The most often heard criticism is that the federal government failed to respond quickly and adequately enough. Enveloped by this chorus of voices clamoring for more government control and intervention, I throw my hat in the ring with the consideration that the federal government is not authorized to respond at all. Rather than more federal government intervention, we must have less. Why you ask? Because that’s what the U.S. Constitution says.
Now before you get all riled up and think that I must be cold-hearted, first let me say that it is the duty of the Christian to give all he can in the way of time and money to these poor ravaged people. We are clearly commanded to do so by our Lord! Second, I’m not tackling the issue in this column of whether all governments should stay out of disaster relief, nor the debate about government versus private sector management of catastrophes. Those are beyond the scope of this column. Here I only want to point out that our federal government has no lawful role in catastrophe relief.
Article 1, Section 8 spells out Congress’ authority:
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, byCession 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.
Nowhere in Section 8, nor in any of the 27 Constitutional Amendments, can we find Congressional authority to spend on charity, benevolence, disaster relief, financial aid, or anything of that sort. In fact, the principle author of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison, had this to say about federal expenditures on relief aid when a congressman in 1792:
“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”
Now just in case some of you are pointing to the phrase “general Welfare of the United States” as authorization for federal disaster relief, President Madison also addressed this same argument made by pork-barrel politicians in his day. He vetoed an “internal improvements” bill as his last Presidential act and had this to say about the “general Welfare” argument,
"Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms 'common defense and general welfare' embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust."
Madison has also been quoted as saying this about that specious argument,
"With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."
So for those of you humble enough to admit James Madison a higher authority on constitutional law than yourselves this should be a settled case. Other folks suffer from no such humility and prefer a behemoth, gargantuan nanny-state micromanaged by an elite oligarchy in Washington. Still others are intellectually honest enough to agree with Madison but not morally sound enough to obey the law in times of crisis and therefore say, “Aside with the Constitution, give me some money!” Well, these latter two groups currently have their way as Congress recently passed a Katrina relief package amounting to $51.8 billion!
Let me present a better alternative. First, the private sector has responded with an incredible amount of aid, and would be able to provide even more if burdensome federal taxation didn’t exist for illegal bureaucracies like FEMA (the list is endless). This federal money comes from somewhere; can anyone guess where? Yes that’s right, the private sector!
Second, whatever happened to private citizens insuring their own lives and their own property? No problem in today’s nanny-state as people living in hurricane alley no longer have any responsibility to insure themselves against loss because the American taxpayer will insure them for free. Evidently the federal government is now the insurer of last resort, making it the largest insurance company in the world! I put it to you that the loudest lobbyists on Capitol Hill last week were those of the insurance companies. $51.8 billion in federal aid will go a long way toward reducing the claims private insurers will have to pay. Who benefits as a result? Insurance company shareholders. Here’s a better idea, those responsible enough to purchase insurance get restored by their insurance companies, those not responsible enough rely upon the benevolence of family, friends, churches, the private sector and/or their local and State governments.
Third, local and State governments, rather than the feds, are better positioned to handle these emergencies if authorized by their constitutions and if allowed to keep the resources to do so. Consider that 2005 federal income tax brackets for individuals range from 10% - 35%. Yet the income tax brackets in Louisiana range from 2% - 6%. If these rates were simply swamped so that the lion share went to the State rather than Washington, Louisiana would have plenty to take care of itself on a host of issues far beyond just disaster prevention. And it’s only common sense that government closest to the people will be best at assessing the danger and the proper response for natural disasters. Indeed, the Founders intended the States to handle domestic disasters and consequently they did not authorize Congress to spend in this way. (Note: I’m an opponent of income taxes, but simply used the above example to point out that the States could take care of themselves if the burden of Washington was lifted)
Lastly, dozens of States are sending aid to their sisters affected by Katrina. How much more they could voluntarily give if Washington didn’t tax their citizens so heavily.
A very credible case can be made that the city and State governments were extremely negligent in response to hurricane Katrina. The evidence abounds for this, particularly in New Orleans and Louisiana, but the question must be asked why they dropped the ball. I submit that they boondoggled the whole thing because there’s virtually no accountability if they fail. Practically before it started raining local officials were clamoring for federal help. And since the minute tragedy struck the only chorus heard from Louisiana has been finger pointing at Washington’s supposed negligence. Republicrats and Demicans singing this tune alike. And what will be the ultimate result? More power usurped by Washington and willingly handed to it by local politicians looking to place the blame somewhere other than themselves. The universal national answer already appears to be to make FEMA a cabinet level department. All the while no national discourse whatsoever about the legality of federal actions when disaster strikes.
Well, there seems to be only one organization with a plan to actually counteract this national sprint toward centralized government. It’s called Christian Exodus. We acknowledge that the 10th Amendment exists and it puts limitations upon federal power. We will place many powers back in the hands to which they belong: the States. Join us online today at www.ChristianExodus.org.