Hey, Congress: Still Not Yours to Give

Just prior to the introduction of Rep. Paul Ryan’s response to the State of the Union Address, a cohort of mine tweeted, “But first, Paul Ryan’s rebuttal, which will be like Ayn Rand hosting Picture Pages.” I couldn’t help but laugh at this thought which for the most part ended up being spot on, though I don’t necessarily think Jon Galt’s Picture Pages would be such a terrible idea. As many of us know, Rand speaks a great deal of truth in her works, and a portion of it has seemed almost prophetical over the last several years. Spoon feeding progressives Rand sounds like a great solution since they are having such a difficult time understanding the big boy versions.

That being said, Ryan’s speech was for the most part what I wanted – and expected – to hear with the exception of one key failure. Towards the end of the speech Ryan remarked that,

“We believe government’s role is both vital and limited – to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense … to secure our borders… to protect innocent life… to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights … to ensure domestic tranquility and equal opportunity … and to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.

I grabbed my pocket copy of the Constitution and thumbed through it desperately looking for the section in which the U.S. Republic is given the authority to provide public safety nets. It simply wasn’t there.

The Congressman spent a great deal of time speaking on limited government, free enterprise, founding principles, and individual responsibility. In fact, toward the end of the speech he contradicted his earlier statement about safety nets by remarking that the “American system of limited government” had “done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed.”

The fact that the initial statement was made, and then additionally contradicted is concerning. It impresses upon me the notion that our representation still does not get it. It is still…not yours to give.

I invite Congressman Ryan along with anyone else serving our country in any area of leadership or bureaucracy to read through the story of Colonel Davy Crocket in Not Yours to Give. Feel free to argue the validity of the occurrence, but the principle within remains which I present in part:

“One day in the House of Representatives, a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose:

“Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.

Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

As the story goes, Crockett chose to address the matter in this way because of a similar incident that had occurred earlier in his career and how a farmer, a Horatio Bunce, confronted Crockett on the fact that his previous decision to award charity with tax payer money was acknowledgment of the colonels inability to understand the Constitution.

Referring to the earlier vote to award $20,000 worth of tax payer money to a charitable cause, Mr. Bunce remarked that,

“The congressmen chose to keep their own money…and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.”

I don’t live in a box, and I don’t reside on top of a very tall horse. The reality of the times that we as Americans live in are that our government has usurped and violated our Constitution repeatedly by passing entitlement after entitlement. The citizenry is in truth just as guilty being that we have allowed this to occur. The data is clear however, welfare and entitlement programs destroy marriages, increase child poverty levels, and stamp out the traditional Judeo-Christian work ethic that our nation was built on.

Americans give more than any other nation on the planet as a percentage of GDP and per capita by drastic proportions. Furthermore, studies by John Hopkins Comparative Non-Profit Sector Project have shown that while nations that are taxed the lowest give more, nations that are taxed the highest and those that have “cradle-to-grave” welfare programs give the least.

It is understood that entitlements in our country exist in current policy. But what citizens need to hear from their elected leaders is that those leaders understand that entitlements and “safety nets” are unconstitutional, and that while they exist now, and may have to exist for the foreseeable future, that our leadership recognizes that they are wrong, that they are a violation of our Constitution and that we will find ways as a people to allow the free market and private charity and giving to provide for needs of individuals that cannot provide for themselves.

Not convinced? Then I use my own community as an example. Prior to Christmas, the membership of 12 Stone Church in North Atlanta, via charitable donation gave roughly $600,000 in a single weekend for unemployed families in our community. With the additional cooperation of the free market, that being Honey Baked Ham, Signature Foods, and the Gwinnett Braves, the church was able to provide 5,500 out of work families a week’s worth of groceries, a turkey dinner for Christmas, and 4 tickets to a Gwinnett Braves game in the upcoming baseball season. Now obviously this kind of giving is higher during the holiday season, so what happens the rest of the year? My community has countless other examples including the Hebron Community Health Clinic which provides free medical, dental, and pharmaceutical assistance to those in need, and organizations like StreetWise offer food, clothing, furniture, bill assistance and counseling. These ministries and organizations are all over our nation.

How is it right to steal from one to give to another? Government needs to understand that we will give the hungry something to eat, we will give the thirsty something to drink, and we will invite the stranger in. We will be openhanded to our brothers, our citizens that are in our land. Do you know where regulatory creep comes from? It comes from the government overtaking the role of the people to care for those that cannot care for themselves, to provide a “safety net”. To simply not acknowledge this is as Mr. Bunce remarked to Colonel Crockett:

“So you see, [legislators], you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people.”