Franklin Delano Bush

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What
is the proper constitutional role for the federal government in
the post-Katrina reconstruction of the Gulf Coast? Should not this
subject be debated seriously before Congress mortgages generations
of Americans yet unborn with the obligation to repay $200 billion
in loans? Don’t expect it.

The
Republican leadership in the House of Representatives already signaled
its intention to stifle such debate when it refused to allow members
of the House to consider an amendment to a bill that allocated the
initial $62 billion in funds to Katrina victims. The amendment would
have directed federal departments and agencies to look for ways
to offset waste, so as to recapture at best a portion of the funds.
In a now infamous statement, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a
Republican from Texas, stated that Republican budget surgeons had
already cut out all the waste in the federal government, so if nothing
else can be cut, why bother with debate?

Such
an attitude on the part of leadership, which denies the right of
elected representatives to engage in a contested debate and presumes
a federal constitutional duty to reconstruct, cheats voters out
of meaningful participation in the legislative process and discloses
a fundamental misunderstanding of our federal system of government.

It
goes without saying that when congressional leadership uses rules
to choke debate, as it did in the House over the Patriot Act, all
the awful attributes of an oligarchy begin to rear their ugly heads.
Want a highway in your district re-paved with federal funds? Want
that state judge friend of yours put on the federal bench? Want
a committee assignment on a subject that really concerns your constituents?
Shut up and vote with the leadership.

We
might as well have government by committee. If voting for elected
representatives is the linchpin of democracy, a leadership that
silences any one of those representatives is the negation of democracy.

Don’t
expect to hear this from any but a few freedom-loving members of
the House, whose opinions no doubt will be relegated to the written
record rather than articulated in real-time floor debate, but: The
federal government has no role to play under the Constitution in
the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast.

When
the Framers wrote into the Constitution the 18 specific, delegated,
enumerated powers of Congress, they cautiously and famously left
to the states what we call today the police power. In constitutional
jargon, the police power is the states’ inherent right and authority
to regulate and to spend for the health, safety, welfare, and morality
of people in the respective states.

This
power has been tempered by the 14th Amendment, which requires that
the states exercise it fairly, equally among those they regulate,
and free of racial considerations. But the Constitution does not
give police power to the federal government. Of course Congress
has enacted laws purporting to give itself the power and duty to
rebuild after some natural disasters. But as anyone with a basic
understanding of constitutional law knows, Congress cannot vote
to give itself power; only the states can do so by amending the
Constitution.

When
a state or local government builds a road or a sewer or a levee
with tax dollars it has collected from those subject to it, or with
grants from Congress, or with loans from investors, it then owns,
and should manage and maintain, what it built. If it is prudent,
a state government will engage in preventive maintenance, and purchase
insurance or set aside funds in case of a catastrophe. If a state
government is not prudent, and a natural disaster strikes, why should
American taxpayers bail it out? That would provide no incentive
for prudence in the future. Why should American taxpayers cover
for the blatant failure of Louisiana politicians to be prudent with
tax dollars? The federal government’s debt is exponentially larger
than Louisiana’s.

Who
in his right mind would build anything below sea level and not maintain
it, insure it, secure it, or put aside enough money to rebuild it
after a flood? Only the government; the same government that diverted
funds from rebuilding levees to financing new casinos.

One
could argue that since the New Deal, Congress has been building
roads, sewers, and bridges, to deliver pork to state and local governments
by building instruments of interstate commerce. Last week, however,
when he gave his much-heralded Jackson Square speech, President
Bush offered to bail out not only Louisiana politicians too imprudent
to maintain levees, but also every single resident person, whether
tenant, landlord, homeowner, or businessperson, adversely affected
by Katrina. When did the federal government become a guarantor against
bad weather and weak levees? There is not even a constitutional
argument to be made that the feds can take tax dollars collected
or proceeds of bonds sold and give them give to private persons.
That is not charity; it is wealth redistribution, pure and simple.

Charity
is a gift from one’s own assets; freely given, out of love, compassion,
or guilt. It is inconceivable for someone to be charitable with
someone else’s money. But that’s how the government will sell this
scheme. Charity? Let me get this straight, Mr. President: You want
to give $200 billion of our children’s money to the same politicians
who couldn’t maintain their own levees or protect their own infrastructure
and to the same voters who let them get away with such malfeasance?
I can think of five members of the Senate whose collective net worth
exceeds $2.5 billion; let them be charitable with their own money.
Has not Katrina exposed the folly of too many tax dollars in the
hands of politicians?

If
Katrina taught us anything it is that the last 40 years of social
welfare has failed miserably. It has also taught us that those who
suffered the most were those who relied on the government the most.
How much suffering must there be until self-reliance, not government
dependence, becomes the norm? Will members of Congress and the Gulf
Coast political class have the courage to address this without spending
taxpayers’ money? Don’t bet on it. Low taxes, local education, market
driven inner-city jobs, and the self-reliance that comes slowly
with the accumulation of personal resources do not translate into
votes as quickly as handouts and dependence do.

When
he ran for president in 2000 and again in 2004, George W. Bush told
voters hundreds of times, in describing tax dollars, words to the
effect that: “It’s your money, not the federal government’s!” As
a candidate, he attacked the Nanny State. What happened to him?
He has become a president who second-guesses a mayor on the safety
of his city’s streets, who presumes the Constitution lets him force
taxpayers to re-build uninsured private homes, and who has proposed
the biggest federal give-away of cash and land to private persons
in history. This isn’t compassionate conservatism. It is unconstitutional
big government truly out of control.

Mr.
President, what new natural disaster, exacerbated by political incompetence,
will the federal government pay for next? The remedy for political
incompetence is not more money in the hands of the incompetents,
it is to vote the bums out of office. Mr. President, who re-built
Galveston after its flood and Chicago after its fire and San Francisco
after its earthquake? Free enterprise and low taxes; not the federal
government.

President
Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite Supreme Court justice, Felix Frankfurter,
who spent a lifetime justifying the New Deal under the Constitution,
had a change of heart at the end of his career. When he proclaimed
that the Constitution was not written to enable the federal government
to right every wrong, he was trying to amend his past and send a
warning to the future. Was anyone listening?

September
24, 2005

Andrew
P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey,
is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel, and the author
of Constitutional
Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws
.

Reprinted
from the New
York Sun
with permission of the author.

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