By Howard Phillips
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any train will get you there.”
Right now, our country is heading in the wrong direction because the train of civil government has been removed from the tracks carefully laid down by the Framers of American liberty.
In the Declaration of Independence it was acknowledged that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Our entitlements to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness were inalienable because they were a gift from Almighty God – not merely the product of man’s fallible and fallen reason – not simply concessions from incumbent political authorities.
In the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, the scope of federal authority is carefully delineated: “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
It was the intended purpose of civil government to safeguard our lives, liberty and property – not to redistribute our wealth. It meant that Georgia would not be preferred to Connecticut, that Massachusetts would not have political advantages unavailable to South Carolina. In short, the general interest would be advocated, free of compromise by any special interest. Unfortunately the very word “welfare” has been corrupted and perverted to denote a process wherein the productive are indentured politically by the dependent.
The story is told of the tourist visiting our nation’s capital, who is strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, admiring the view in front of the White House, when suddenly he is accosted by a well-dressed man in a three-piece suit who pokes a pistol in his ribs and urges poignantly: “Sir, I’m sorry to trouble you. I don’t like this any more than you do, but I’m collecting funds for a very worthy homeless project here in Washington, D.C. We’re short of funds, so I’m taking up a collection. That’ll be $100 please, or I’ll blow your brains out.”
Despite his declaration of charitable intent, that sidewalk solicitor was a thief. He was also a fool because, if he moved his act a few blocks uptown – to Capitol Hill – he could do the same thing by majority vote – with a larger return – and be called a congressman.
The Bible commands: “Thou shalt not steal.” Theft is wrong – even when it is achieved in elegant surroundings, during broad daylight, and by majority vote.
As the French writer Bastiat observed, that which is wrong when done by an individual is no less objectionable when the act has numerous accomplices.
The Framers understood that principle and sought to carefully restrict the scope and authority of the federal government. Lest there be any doubt of their very specific, original intentions, they adopted a Bill of Rights – with Ten Amendments further limiting federal authority.
The Framers punctuated the Bill of Rights with these words, which constitute the entirety of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
What could be more clear? Or more explicit? Yet this clear-cut language has been utterly disregarded. During his long confirmation hearings, Clarence Thomas was asked about many things, but not about those simple, comprehensive, imperative words. Perhaps to even mention the Tenth Amendment might have been considered “constitutional harassment.”
Taxes, Spending and Debt
The clearest measure of the degree to which we have departed from the Founders’ standard can be found in the official statistics about federal taxes, federal spending, and federal debt. Consider what has transpired in the space of only three decades:
federal spending has increase from less than $100 billion annually in 1961, to nearly $1.5 trillion during the current fiscal year. Interest on the national debt costs taxpayers a mere $6.7 billion per year in 1961. But, as spending has been steadily increased by acts of Congress, with the concurrence of every President during the past 30 years, the interest burden has also steadily, incrementally and, now, exponentially, been climbing – to $14.8 billion in 1971, to $68.7 billion in 1981 at the start of the Reagan Presidency and, most recently, to $306 billion in fiscal year 1991, which ended at midnight on September 30.
Income taxes have also gone through the roof – even though the revenues they yield for the federal government cover little more than a third of what Washington spends. In 1991, the individual income tax produced $468 billion, while Uncle Sam spent nearly three times that much – more than $1.3 trillion. With a deficit of about $269 billion, the great majority of federal outlays were paid for by revenues from sources other than the income tax.
By the way, that $468 billion tax total was about $25 billion less than the Bush administration had hoped to extract from the American people. But, in an economy weakened by burdensome regulation, high tax rates and excessive government intervention, there’s only so much blood to be drawn from the stones.
In 1961, federal income taxes produced $41 billion in revenues; in 1971, $86 billion; and in 1981 – just ten years ago – we paid $286 billion in income taxes. That level of taxation seemed and was so onerous that Ronald Reagan was greatly helped in his 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter when he promised to cut taxes. He did cut them once, in 1981. But, unfortunately, he subsequently raised income and other taxes four times, so that, when he left office in January 1989, taxes were significantly higher, across the board, than they had been on the day when he first took the oath.
The 30-year pattern of exponential spending growth and tax increases is reflected in other statistics. Corporate taxes grew from $21 billion in 1961 to $96 billion in 1991. Excise taxes were up from $12 billion to $42 billion, and Social Security taxes – in many ways the cruelest taxes of all – jumped from $16 billion in 1961 to $47 billion in 1971 to $183 billion in 1981 to the 1991 level of $371 billion.
The federal debt itself is literally almost beyond control. During the Reagan years, it was permitted to more than triple in size, from $914 billion in 1981 to roughly $2.8 trillion in 1989. As we meet here today, the debt is climbing rapidly to $4 trillion and will almost certainly reach that plateau within the current twelve-month period.
Most politicians seem blissfully unconcerned about the debt, its continuing growth and its inevitable consequences. But, according to J. Peter Grace, who heads Citizens Against Government Waste, present trends, if permitted to continue, will raise the on-budget national debt to $14 trillion before the end of the present decade – and, prevailing wisdom to the contrary notwithstanding, deficits do matter.
As I have described, the cost of servicing the debt has increased from less than $7 billion per year in 1961 to $306 billion this year, on a debt of $3.7 trillion. If the debt triples again during this decade of the 1990s, as it did in the 1980s, we can expect debt service costs to triple as well – in fact, they will likely more than triple.
That means we are only several years away from having to shell out nearly one trillion dollars per year simply to pay interest on our admitted national debt – I say admitted because the $13 trillion projected total does not include unfunded liabilities for Social Security and other programs. There, we’re looking at many trillions more in obligations assumed in your name by your elected representatives.
At some point, it will be literally impossible to either raise taxes sufficiently to pay the debt interest, or to borrow more money for debt service. Like the Soviet Union today, we won’t be able to pay interest on the debt without foreign charity or forgiveness of debt.
The real reason George Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge last year was because Japan, which owes more than a half-trillion dollars of the U.S. government’s debt, threatened to call in its loans and make no new ones unless Mr. Bush agreed to raise taxes.
As was reported in the Baltimore Sun of June 29, 1990, “U.S. negotiators here [Tokyo] encouraged speculation that President Bush’s public reversal of his ‘read my lips’ campaign promise of ‘no new taxes’ had been timed to help persuade the Japanese that Washington is serious about attacking the huge U.S. budget deficit, a key demand of Tokyo officials through the year of talks.”
Indeed, a July 5, 1990 report by the Bureau of National Affairs Inc. said the U.S.-Japan trade accord “also commits the U.S. government to slashing its federal budget deficit through raising taxes, a pledge consistent with President Bush’s indication that he is willing to consider that course.”
Later in this current decade, without new borrowing or new taxes, our government will have very few choices: either sell off its assets to pay the debt interest, or declare bankruptcy and refuse to pay that which is owed, or, most likely, service the debt in discounted dollars whose real value is derived primarily from the paper they’re printed on.
Under this approach, by massively inflating the money supply, we could very well wind up adding a few zeroes to each federal Reserve note in our pockets. That kind of devaluation is not without precedent. It happened in revolutionary France in the 18th century, in Czarist Russia and in Weimar Germany.
Here’s what businessman Harry Figgie Jr. says about hyperinflation:
“If the U.S. fails to rein in its debt – the largest in world history and more than double the debt of the entire Third World – American businesses might find themselves facing South America’s inflationary nightmare. Projections suggest that, if current trends are allowed to continue, debt could reach $13 trillion by the year 2000. At that point, our annual deficit would be as much as $2 trillion, and $1.6 trillion of that would simply be interest on the debt!”
According to a guide published by Figgie, “The classic definition of hyperinflation…is a 50 percent average monthly price rise, translating into an annual inflation rate of 12,875 percent compounded.”
When hyperinflation hits America, as it will at some point in the next several years, unless there is a fundamental change of course very soon, it will dramatically intensify popular anger with politicians and increase the growing disillusionment with our political system. And, as occurred in Robespierre’s France, Lenin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, the door will be open for a dictorial demagogue – unless responsible solutions are offered which acknowledge past error and offer solid hope of a better future.
No one can predict with assurance which message people will choose, but there is no doubt that with their dollar assets virtually destroyed, they will be receptive to recommendations for change. If no one offers a good solution, they will choose among the bad ones offered. But some choice will be made.
Restoring Limited Government
In political terms, I say with confidence, no change could be put forward which would do more good than a return to the kind of limited government prescribed by the Framers 200 years ago.
The idea of turning the political clock back may be ridiculed by some, but, to my mind, it is indisputably the correct solutio, in the sense of enabling us to undo so much of the harm which has been infected by overreaching political authorities on our nation and our people.
In 1980, after four years of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan won his presidential debate by turning to the camera and asking the American people if they considered themselves to be better off then they had been four years earlier. On election day, they gave forth a resounding “no.”
It might now be fairly asked, after three decades of a steadily expanding federal establishment: “Is America better off now than it was not four, but 30 years ago?”
Again, the answer is “no.” Whereas at one point, our material circumstances improved bit by bit with each passing year, now – and this has been true since 1973 – they decline each year. Whereas, once, one breadwinner could provide comfortably for his household, now we see two and more family members working in an effort to make ends meet.
The price of more government has been less prosperity and diminished liberty. Were we not better off in 1961, before the “Great Society” and its successors, which gave us “welfare rights,” EPA, the National Endowment for the Arts, HUD, food stamps, the Legal Services Corporation, “safe sodomy” subsidies, funding of Planned Parenthood, and so much more?
Consider this: No recent president has even proposed a balanced budget, let alone one which would reduce spending to appropriate constitutional levels. But, if Ronald Reagan, upon assuming office – just ten years ago – had proposed a freeze on the total amount of federal spending, and enforced that recommendation with vetoes of all appropriations in excess of the $592 spending level he inherited, then today the U.S. government would operate at a surplus without having to collect even a single penny in individual income taxes.
That’s right. In 1991, non-income tax revenues to the federal government amounted to $586 billion – only $6 billion less, in static terms, than what would be needed to balance a budget frozen to the 1981 level of $592 billion.
But, the dynamic impact on the economy resulting from the extra $67 billion in uncollected income taxes which taxpayers would be permitted to save, invest and spend if their income tax dollars were kept under their own control, rather than that of federal bureaucrats would cause the economy to boom, federal relief expenditures to diminish, and federal revenues from non-income tax sources to soar.
And, of course, if the functions and activities of the U.S. government were kept within proper constitutional boundaries, then, instead of spending $1.5 trillion per year, financed by borrowing, currency inflation, income taxes, corporate taxes and Social Security taxes we could fund the entire federal government, relying merely on excises, imports and duties, with no direct capitation taxes on the citizens of the several states.
Step by step, the Framers’ original constitutional design has been altered. In this century alone, radical transformations have been made. Every liberal President in the century has come to town with an agenda which has undercut the constitution, altered our political arrangements and diminished our liberty. FDR had his New Deal, JFK his New Frontier and LBJ his Great Society.
Unfortunately, even those Republican Presidents who campaigned for office as conservatives did little or nothing, once inaugurated, to reverse course or change direction. Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush have not merely consolidated that which they inherited, institutionalizing the radical modifications introduced by their predecessors, but they have also, almost without exception, assigned hundreds of billions of dollars in additional resources to activities which, while campaigning for office, they condemned.
It’s easy to conclude that every recent President, in terms of departure from constitutional principles and expansion of federal power – has been worse than his predecessor. Thus, the American people have been offered only two real alternatives: “lose fast” with the Democrats, or “lose slow” with the Republicans. But either way, we have lost.
And the conservative movement, instead of offering a “vision of victory” around which we might rally has raised up no standard more exalted than the prospect of “losing as slowly as possible.”
Political conservatives have failed to reverse the tide against limited constitutional government in large measure because they have assigned their loyalty to a single political party and to particular political leaders, rather than to fixed constitutional and religious principles. At the same time, too many of us have failed to hold our public officials and political leaders accountable to the few remaining convictions which political conservatives profess to uphold.
When candidate Reagan denounced President Carter for having created a federal Department of Education, conservatives cheered. But, when President Reagan tripled the budget of the same unconstitutional establishment, conservatives averted their eyes and quieted their voices.
And look at what has been happening more recently. Last year, for example, when a special interest-oriented Clean Air bill was passed, encumbering entrepreneurship even as it provided billions in economic payoffs to “Big Business” political contributors, only six Republican Senators voted “no,” and only 16 Republican members of the House did likewise.
Similarly, when President Bush promoted a so-called “Americans with Disabilities Act,” which requires private employers to hire “otherwise qualified” AIDS-infected homosexuals, even for food-handling positions in restaurants, only eight U.S. senators voted “no,” as did only 20 members of the House.
For several years, one of the main objectives of pro-family conservatives and Christian activists has been to stop the incredibly perverse activities of the federally funded National Endowment for the Arts, which, even as it has been stoutly defended by George Bush (who wants to increase its funding), has been awarding subsidies to self-proclaimed “artists” who use our taxes to promote blasphemy, sodomy and other forms of human corruption and degeneracy.
Yet, when the issue came to a vote earlier this year, no more than 66 of 435 congressmen voted for Congressman Phil Crane’s proposal to cut off the NEA’s money.
Is Reform Possible?
Now it’s time to take our government back. Nor is it too late to do so, if we have the requisite desire, vision, objective, strategy and plan.
Our society faces many crises: moral, cultural, strategic, institutional and financial. Not all of our crises, by any means, can be resolved politically – but, to the extent that government has caused or compounded our problems, we can, through independent political action and a sound strategy of constitutional reconstruction, diminish their impact and mitigate their damage.
We can even hope to rebuild a society in which, once again, godly behavior is encouraged, criminal conduct is effectively restricted, and industry is rewarded. We can reconstruct our Republic without violent revolution, rampant disorder or widespread suffering.
The means for reconstruction are provided in the Constitution whenever the requisite leadership is forthcoming from either the Congress or the President, but above all, from the American people.
In order for Congress, on its own, to overcome America’s mounting debt crisis and act to restore limited government by cutting federal spending down to Constitutional limits, we would have to await the unlikely prospect of some 67 Senators – enough to overcome a filibuster and override a veto – plus some 290 Representatives, the number needed to control the agenda on the House floor – prepared to act in unison.
If a President were elected this year, on a platform committed to drastic reduction in federal spending, coupled with a realistic plan to eliminate the income tax, our nation could be put back on a proper constitutional track and restored to fiscal solvency, in the space of a single four-year term.
Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”
In Article I, Section 7, it is made clear that “Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary … shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives.”
Simply stated, that means there are only two ways for the federal government to fund its activities: Either (1) by concurrence of the House, the Senate and the President, or (2) over the objection of the President, with 290 representatives and 67 U.S. senators prepared to override his vetoes.
Since it’s unlikely that a Congress dominated by federally funded special interests will, by majority (let alone two-thirds) vote, voluntarily act to cut off the “port” to its members’ political allies, then, as a practical matter, if the IRS is to be closed down and other undesirable activities terminated, that result will have to be achieved by means of Presidential vetoes, sustained by either 34 senators or 146 representatives in Congress.
The President already has the requisite authority to propose, on his own, and to dispose, so long as he has the support of one-third plus one of one House. It is not legality which is lacking, but the vision to lead and the will to act. If a President lacks the stomach to go “cold turkey” and cut the budget by two-thirds or a full trillion dollars, he can pursue the more moderate course of simply rolling back spending by one-third, to the level of one trillion dollars last obtained in 1987 near the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Reviving Our Republic
Turning back the clock by a mere four or five years would not destroy the economy, it would revive it – giving back hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes and spending, so that Americans could spend their own money – instead of having it spent for them by politicians and bureaucrats.
How do we get such a President to implement such a plan? That’s another story for another occasion. But let me give you a few hints: The first step is to put the idea in circulation. The second is to recruit candidates who will advocate it. Popular support will grow as the economic crisis intensifies and the failure of present approaches is made manifest.
Taxpayers will rally to the cause as they tire of their lifelong involuntary servitude to a politically preferred assortment of tax users whose votes are bought with our own money, which is confiscated by majority vote whenever Congress passes a new authorization or appropriation. With exponentially escalating debt and the prospect of hyperinflation during the next several years, the possibility of constitutional reconstruction and a return to limited government will become increasingly attractive to productive citizens who want not only to send a message to Washington, but also to change its direction.
In the past, a proliferation of special interests, like an army of greedy Lilliputians, has prevailed over a blinded “general interest,” gaining their advantages via a never-ending series of multimillion dollar legislative pinpricks.
But when each member of the general interest can see personally the prospect of a huge annual pay raise – effectuated by the complete elimination of their individual income tax obligations – they will become ready to support the corollary reductions in welfare state spending which are needed to enable immediate elimination of the income tax.
At that point, a new political force will have been polarized into place, one which, in a multi-party scenario, will be able to capture the presidency and to govern effectively, with a coherent plurality, rather that an unstable media-manipulated majority of popular support.
This impending realignment will be facilitated by the breakdown and restructuring of existing political arrangements, which have kept the political “living dead” in place long since their minds and hearts have been extinguished.
The “undead” Republicans and Democrats have been kept politically alive by federal election laws which concentrate control over campaign dollars in the national leadership of the Democrat and Republican parties and by state laws, which often unfairly restrict ballot access both for independent candidates and new political parties.
The movement for term limitation, widespread outrage at congressional pay raises, pensions and perquisites, and recent demonstrations of support for “socially unacceptable” anti-establishment candidates are but a foretaste of the political earthquake we will witness during this decade.
Let us act now to prepare the alternative partisan arrangements on which we will need to rely just a few years hence. America’s Founders established what became the greatest nation in history. That nation and its government are now headed toward moral suicide and economic catastrophe. Our job as inheritors of the Framers’ system and as adherents of the Founders’ principles is to discern the truth, tell it, and act in terms of it.
- Let it be our vision to overcome America’s mounting debt crisis and restore limited government by cutting federal spending down to constitutional limits and abolishing the individual income tax.
- Let it be our objective to make the vision a reality through a President who will use his existing veto authority – with the support of one-third plus one the members in either the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate – to eliminate unconstitutional regulations, programs, agencies and expenditures.
- Let it be our strategy to offer the American people a “Grand Bargain” wherein, as special interest spending is eliminated, the general interest will be advanced by defunding the Internal Revenue Service and ending all individual income tax collections.
- Let it be our plan to secure the objective by recruiting and training volunteer activists in each of the 50 states who will create or cooperate with taxpayers’ parties which share the vision – thus paving they way for an electoral college victory achieved with a plurality of popular votes in a multiparty scenario.
When the good doctor correctly diagnoses a potentially fatal disease and prescribes a painful remedy, the patient may be reluctant to act. But at some point, hopefully before it is too late, the patient may decide to accept the prescription, and by acting on it, have some hope of recovery. If the doctor fails to warn the patient and offer a cure, premature death is likely.
America is in grave condition. Let us not hesitate to warn of the cancer and offer a plan for its surgical removal.
In doing do, let us accept the advice of George Washington, our first President, who, at a critical moment during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 warned his fellow delegates: “If, to please the people we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.”
Howard Phillips is the U.S. Taxpayers’ Alliance independent party candidate for President of the United States.