by Ron Paul: Bizarre
Since my 2008
campaign for the presidency I have often been asked, “How would
a constitutionalist president go about dismantling the welfare-warfare
state and restoring a constitutional republic?” This is a very
important question, because without a clear road map and set of
priorities, such a president runs the risk of having his pro-freedom
agenda stymied by the various vested interests that benefit from
just as the welfare-warfare state was not constructed in 100 days,
it could not be dismantled in the first 100 days of any presidency.
While our goal is to reduce the size of the state as quickly as
possible, we should always make sure our immediate proposals minimize
social disruption and human suffering. Thus, we should not seek
to abolish the social safety net overnight because that would harm
those who have grown dependent on government-provided welfare. Instead,
we would want to give individuals who have come to rely on the state
time to prepare for the day when responsibility for providing aide
is returned to those organizations best able to administer compassionate
and effective help — churches and private charities.
Now, this need
for a transition period does not apply to all types of welfare.
For example, I would have no problem defunding corporate welfare
programs, such as the Export-Import Bank or the TARP bank bailouts,
right away. I find it difficult to muster much sympathy for the
CEO’s of Lockheed Martin and Goldman Sachs.
No matter what
the president wants to do, most major changes in government programs
would require legislation to be passed by Congress. Obviously, the
election of a constitutionalist president would signal that our
ideas had been accepted by a majority of the American public and
would probably lead to the election of several pro-freedom congressmen
and senators. Furthermore, some senators and representatives would
become “born again” constitutionalists out of a sense
of self-preservation. Yet there would still be a fair number of
politicians who would try to obstruct our freedom agenda. Thus,
even if a president wanted to eliminate every unconstitutional program
in one fell swoop, he would be very unlikely to obtain the necessary
support in Congress.
Yet a pro-freedom
president and his legislative allies could make tremendous progress
simply by changing the terms of the negotiations that go on in Washington
regarding the size and scope of government. Today, negotiations
over legislation tend to occur between those who want a 100 percent
increase in federal spending and those who want a 50 percent increase.
Their compromise is a 75 percent increase. With a president serious
about following the Constitution, backed by a substantial block
of sympathetic representatives in Congress, negotiations on outlays
would be between those who want to keep funding the government programs
and those who want to eliminate them outright — thus a compromise
would be a 50 percent decrease in spending!
While a president
who strictly adheres to the Constitution would need the consent
of Congress for very large changes in the size of government, such
as shutting down cabinet departments, he could use his constitutional
authority as head of the executive branch and as commander in chief
to take several significant steps toward liberty on his own. The
area where the modern chief executive has greatest ability to act
unilaterally is in foreign affairs. Unfortunately, Congress has
abdicated its constitutional authority to declare wars, instead
passing vague “authorization of force” bills that allow
the president to send any number of troops to almost any part of
the world. The legislature does not even effectively use its power
of the purse to rein in the executive. Instead, Congress serves
as little more than a rubber stamp for the president’s requests.
If the president
has the power to order U.S. forces into combat on nothing more than
his own say-so, then it stands to reason he can order troops home.
Therefore, on the first day in office, a constitutionalist can begin
the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
He can also begin withdrawing troops from other areas of the world.
The United States has over 300,000 troops stationed in more than
146 countries. Most if not all of these deployments bear little
or no relationship to preserving the safety of the American people.
For example, over 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the
U.S. still maintains troops in Germany.
the president can use his authority to set policies and procedures
for the federal bureaucracy to restore respect for the Constitution
and individual liberty. For example, today manufacturers of dietary
supplements are subject to prosecution by the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) or Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if they make even truthful
statements about the health benefits of their products without going
through the costly and time-consuming procedures required to gain
government approval for their claims. A president can put an end
to this simply by ordering the FDA and FTC not to pursue these types
of cases unless they have clear evidence that the manufacturer’s
clams are not true. Similarly, the president could order the bureaucracy
to stop prosecuting consumers who wish to sell raw milk across state
A crucial policy
that a president could enact to bring speedy improvements to government
is ordering the bureaucracy to respect the 10th Amendment and refrain
from undermining state laws. We have already seen a little renewed
federalism with the current administration’s policy of not
prosecuting marijuana users when their use of the drug is consistent
with state medical-marijuana laws. A constitutionalist administration
would also defer to state laws refusing compliance with the REAL
ID act and denying federal authority over interstate gun transactions.
None of these actions repeals a federal law; they all simply recognize
a state’s primary authority, as protected by the 10th amendment,
to set policy in these areas.
In fact, none
of the measures I have discussed so far involves repealing any written
law. They can be accomplished simply by a president exercising his
legitimate authority to set priorities for the executive branch.
And another important step he can take toward restoring the balance
of powers the Founders intended is repealing unconstitutional executive
orders issued by his predecessors.
are a useful management tool for the president, who must exercise
control over the enormous federal bureaucracy. However, in recent
years executive orders have been used by presidents to create new
federal laws without the consent of Congress. As President Clinton’s
adviser Paul Begala infamously said, “stroke of the pen, law
of the land, pretty cool.” No, it is not “pretty cool,”
and a conscientious president could go a long way toward getting
us back to the Constitution’s division of powers by ordering
his counsel or attorney general to comb through recent executive
orders so the president can annul those that exceed the authority
of his office. If the President believed a particular Executive
Order made a valid change in the law, then he should work with Congress
to pass legislation making that change.
can directly abolish government departments, but the president could
use his managerial powers to shrink the federal bureaucracy by refusing
to fill vacancies created by retirements or resignations. This would
dramatically reduce the number of federal officials wasting our
money and taking our liberties. One test to determine if a vacant
job needs to be filled is the “essential employees test.”
Whenever D.C. has a severe snowstorm, the federal government orders
all “non-essential” federal personal to stay home. If
someone is classified as non-essential for snow-day purposes, the
country can probably survive if that position is not filled when
the jobholder quits or retires. A constitutionalist president should
make every day in D.C. like a snow day!
could also enhance the liberties and security of the American people
by ordering federal agencies to stop snooping on citizens when there
is no evidence that those who are being spied on have committed
a crime. Instead, the president should order agencies to refocus
on the legitimate responsibilities of the federal government, such
as border security. He should also order the Transportation Security
Administration to stop strip-searching grandmothers and putting
toddlers on the no-fly list. The way to keep Americans safe is to
focus on real threats and ensure that someone whose own father warns
U.S. officials he’s a potential terrorist is not allowed to
board a Christmas Eve flight to Detroit with a one-way ticket.
most efficient step a president could take to enhance travel security
is to remove the federal roadblocks that have frustrated attempts
to arm pilots. Congress created provisions to do just that in response
to the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, the processes for
getting a federal firearms license are extremely cumbersome, and
as a result very few pilots have gotten their licenses. A constitutionalist
in the Oval Office would want to revise those regulations to make
it as easy as possible for pilots to get approval to carry firearms
on their planes.
While the president
can do a great deal on his own, to really restore the Constitution
and cut back on the vast unconstitutional programs that have sunk
roots in Washington over 60 years, he will have to work with Congress.
The first step in enacting a pro-freedom legislative agenda is the
submission of a budget that outlines the priorities of the administration.
While it has no legal effect, the budget serves as a guideline for
the congressional appropriations process. A constitutionalist president’s
budget should do the following:
overall federal spending
cuts in oversize expenditures, especially the military
cuts in corporate welfare
- Use 50 percent
of the savings from cuts in overseas spending to shore up entitlement
programs for those who are dependent on them and the other 50
percent to pay down the debt
for reduction in federal bureaucracy and lay out a plan to return
responsibility for education to the states
- Begin transitioning
entitlement programs from a system where all Americans are forced
to participate into one where taxpayers can opt out of the programs
and make their own provisions for retirement and medical care
failed to produce a budget that was balanced and moved the country
in a pro-liberty direction, a constitutionalist president should
veto the bill. Of course, vetoing the budget risks a government
shutdown. But a serious constitutionalist cannot be deterred by
cries of “it’s irresponsible to shut down the government!”
Instead, he should simply say, “I offered a reasonable compromise,
which was to gradually reduce spending, and Congress rejected it,
instead choosing the extreme path of continuing to jeopardize America’s
freedom and prosperity by refusing to tame the welfare-warfare state.
I am the moderate; those who believe that America can afford this
bloated government are the extremists.”
government spending, after all, is doubly an evil: it not only means
picking the taxpayer’s pocket, it also means subverting the
system of limited and divided government that the Founders created.
Just look at how federal spending has corrupted American education.
federal involvement in K—12 education should be among a constitutionalist
president’s top domestic priorities. The Constitution makes
no provision for federal meddling in education. It is hard to think
of a function less suited to a centralized, bureaucratic approach
than education. The very idea that a group of legislators and bureaucrats
in D.C. can design a curriculum capable of meeting the needs of
every American schoolchild is ludicrous. The deteriorating performance
of our schools as federal control over the classroom has grown shows
the folly of giving Washington more power over American education.
President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law claimed it would
fix education by making public schools “accountable.”
However, supporters of the law failed to realize that making schools
more accountable to federal agencies, instead of to parents, was
just perpetuating the problem.
In the years
since No Child Left Behind was passed, I don’t think I have
talked to any parent or teacher who is happy with the law. Therefore,
a constitutionalist president looking for ways to improve the lives
of children should demand that Congress cut the federal education
bureaucracy as a down payment on eventually returning 100 percent
of the education dollar to parents.
the battle to reduce the federal role in education has been the
toughest one faced by limited-government advocates, as supporters
of centralized education have managed to paint constitutionalists
as “anti-education.” But who is really anti-education?
Those who wish to continue to waste taxpayer money on failed national
schemes, or those who want to restore control over education to
the local level? When the debate is framed this way, I have no doubt
the side of liberty will win. When you think about it, the argument
that the federal government needs to control education is incredibly
insulting to the American people, for it implies that the people
are too stupid or uncaring to educate their children properly. Contrary
to those who believe that only the federal government can ensure
children’s education, I predict a renaissance in education
when parents are put back in charge.
is not the only place the federal government does not belong. We
also need to reverse the nationalization of local police. Federal
grants have encouraged the militarization of law enforcement, which
has led to great damage to civil liberties. Like education, law
enforcement is inherently a local function, and ending programs
such as the Byrne Grants is essential not just to reducing federal
spending but also to restoring Americans’ rights.
a president concerned with restoring constitutional government and
fiscal responsibility would need to address the unstable entitlement
situation, possibly the one area of government activity even more
difficult to address than education. Yet it is simply unfair to
continue to force young people to participate in a compulsory retirement
program when they could do a much better job of preparing for their
own retirements. What is more, the government cannot afford the
long-term expenses of entitlements, even if we were to reduce all
other unconstitutional foreign and domestic programs.
As I mentioned
in the introduction to this article, it would be wrong simply to
cut these programs and throw those who are dependent on them “into
the streets.” After all, the current recipients of these programs
have come to rely on them, and many are in a situation where they
cannot provide for themselves without government assistance. The
thought of people losing the ability to obtain necessities for them
because they were misled into depending on a government safety net
that has been yanked away from them should trouble all of us. However,
the simple fact is that if the government does not stop spending
money on welfare and warfare, America may soon face an economic
crisis that could lead to people being thrown into the street.
a transition away from the existing entitlement scheme is needed.
This is why a constitutionalist president should propose devoting
half of the savings from the cuts in wars and other foreign spending,
corporate welfare, and unnecessary and unconstitutional bureaucracies
to shoring up Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and providing
enough money to finance government’s obligations to those who
are already stuck in the system and cannot make alternative provisions.
This re-routing of spending would allow payroll taxes to be slashed.
The eventual goal would be to move to a completely voluntary system
where people only pay payroll taxes into Social Security and Medicare
if they choose to participate in those programs. Americans who do
not want to participate would be free not to do so, but they would
forgo any claim to Social Security or Medicare benefits after retirement.
raise concerns that talk of transitions is an excuse for indefinitely
putting off the end of the welfare state. I understand those concerns,
which is why a transition plan must lay out a clear timetable for
paying down the debt, eliminating unconstitutional bureaucracies,
and setting a firm date for when young people can at last opt out
of the entitlement programs.
A final area
that should be front and center in a constitutionalist’s agenda
is monetary policy. The Founders obviously did not intend for the
president to have much influence over the nation’s money —
in fact, they never intended any part of the federal government
to operate monetary policy as it defined now. However, today a president
could play an important role in restoring stability to monetary
policy and the value of the dollar. To start, by fighting for serious
reductions in spending, a constitutionalist administration would
remove one of the major justifications for the Federal Reserve’s
inflationary policies, the need to monetize government debt.
There are additional
steps a pro-freedom president should pursue in his first term to
restore sound monetary policy. He should ask Congress to pass two
pieces of legislation I have introduced in the 110th Congress. The
first is the Audit the Fed bill, which would allow the American
people to learn just how the Federal Reserve has been conducting
monetary policy. The other is the Free Competition in Currency Act,
which repeals legal tender laws and all taxes on gold and silver.
This would introduce competition in currency and put a check on
the Federal Reserve by ensuring that people have alternatives to
government-produced fiat money.
of these measures will take a lot of work — a lot more than
any one person, even the president of the United States, can accomplish
by himself. In order to restore the country to the kind of government
the Founders meant for us to have, a constitutionalist president
would need the support of an active liberty movement. Freedom activists
must be ready to pressure wavering legislators to stand up to the
special interests and stay the course toward freedom. Thus, when
the day comes when someone who shares our beliefs sits in the Oval
Office, groups like Young Americans for Liberty and Campaign for
Liberty will still have a vital role to play. No matter how many
pro-freedom politicians we elect to office, the only way to guarantee
constitutional government is through an educated and activist public
devoted to the ideals of the liberty.
For that reason,
the work of Young Americans for Liberty in introducing young people
to the freedom philosophy and getting them involved in the freedom
movement is vital to the future of our country. I thank all the
members and supporters of YAL for their dedication to changing the
political debate in this country, so that in the not-too-distant
future we actually will have a president and a Congress debating
the best ways to shrink the welfare-warfare state and restore the
Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.
Young Americans for Liberty