Thursday, June 28, 2012

Conservatives vexed to discover Congress has power of taxation

Well, not all of them. But some of them. Take this tweet, for example:

Which, well, yes.

The second-most-trafficked blog post I've ever written here is one I wrote while reading The Federalist Papers.  It's where I dive deep to discover that the Founders intended that Congress have unlimited power of taxation.  Now they obviously didn't expect that it would be used in unlimited fashion, but they were very specific that the power had to be unbounded. Here's one Constitutional case where we don't have to speculate about their intent, because they told us.

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 31:
As the duties of superintending the national defense and of securing the public peace against foreign or domestic violence involve a provision for casualties and dangers to which no possible limits can be assigned, the power of making that provision ought to know no other bounds than the exigencies of the nation and the resources of the community. 
As revenue is the essential engine by which the means of answering the national exigencies must be procured, the power of procuring that article in its full extent must necessarily be comprehended in that of providing for those exigencies.
As theory and practice conspire to prove that the power of procuring revenue is unavailing when exercised over the States in their collective capacities, the federal government must of necessity be invested with an unqualified power of taxation in the ordinary modes.
The lack of limits, I think, suggests that the federal government indeed has the power to tax anything that moves. And anything that doesn't move.

I suppose you can argue that taxing people in order to encourage them to buy health insurance doesn't qualify as an "ordinary mode"--but as Chief Justice John Roberts noted in today's opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act, government uses tax policy to encourage and discourage all sorts of behaviors. That horse is out of the barn, and with the full-throated support of a good number of Republicans.

I can understand why conservatives might be disgruntled about today's ruling, though I don't think they have as much to be upset about as they think they do. But if you're going to be mad that the federal government has the power to tax you, don't get mad at John Roberts--he didn't invent the power. The Founders did.

No comments: