A Rare and Fun Day in a Constitutional Nerd Kinda Way
Published on March 04, 2023
enumerated powers of Congress

“Hey, come here, look at this!”  My wife tilted the computer monitor so I could see it clearly.  We have often been quite critical of our Representative in the U.S. House, and one of our Senators from Texas.  Even though they run their campaigns touting conservative principles, all too often, they ignore the Constitution they swore to support when they took office.  They seem to imagine Congress is not limited, but can do anything it wants.  They do not often let the Constitutional idea of enumerated powers of Congress get in their way.  Today, however, was different.  It was rare.  It was even fun, in a weird, Constitution-nerd kind of a way.  Today, they were proposing something that appeared to be consistent with their Constitutionally defined duties! 

Article 1, Section 8 in the Constitution lists the enumerated powers of Congress.  This is the specific list of duties they have been granted power to perform by “We the People”.  We have discussed enumerated powers in several previous articles including “What are Enumerated Powers?”, and “Enumerated Powers Defined in the Constitution”.  This is a very important concept to the idea of limited government.  The idea is the federal government cannot do anything unless it is specifically authorized to do so in the Constitution. 

Today, they were proposing to rename a local Post Office to honor our previous Congressman, Ron Wright, who had recently passed away.  One of the items listed in Article 1, Section 8 authorizes Congress “To Establish Post Offices and post Roads”.  It’s time to celebrate!  Our Representative and Senator were proposing something for which they had clear constitutional jurisdiction! 

What CAN they do? 

It may take us several articles, but with so much focus on what Congress cannot do, I wanted to go through those enumerated powers listed in Article 1, Section 8What CAN Congress do?  They clearly have authority to do the things in this list.  Remember also that the Constitution was written for 13 separate, independent countries that had loosely come together for the fight with Great Britain.  They were all very capable of governing themselves, but they agreed there were certain things that would be more beneficial if they created one entity to act on behalf of all of them.  Article 1, Section 8 is that list.  Let’s consider the first few of them: 

Enumerated powers of Congress

Power to Tax

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”

So we see that Congress has power to tax.  This paragraph also gives more detail on the kinds of things Congress may tax for.  We see they can tax for the common defense.  This was a weakness the states had just experienced in the War for Independence with Great Britain.  Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress was not able to tax for defense, and the result was debilitating to the military.  So this weakness was corrected by giving Congress the ability to tax for common defense.  The 16th Amendment also added that Congress could collect taxes on incomes…  Perhaps you are now familiar with that practice…  ☹  So, as much as we may not like taxes, it is Constitutional for Congress to tax – as long as it is for a Constitutional purpose.

Power to Borrow

“To borrow Money on the credit of the United States”

Congress has power to borrow money…  and wow do they ever do that!  The U.S. debt clock is over $31.5 Trillion.  If you have trouble imagining what $31.5 Trillion looks like, well, so did I, so I did some calculations… The year I am writing this is 2023.  That means that since the year 0 AD, roughly since the birth of the Lord (give or take a few years), there have been approximately 738,395 days.  (2023 years x 365 days per year = 738,395 days).  If we divide 31.5 Trillion by 738,395 days, we get $42.6 Million, and some change.  So, in order to get to our current level of debt, one would have to spend $42.6 Million every day since the Lord was born!  I’m sorry to do that to you…  If my math is wrong, please let me know in the comments.  I would kinda love to be wrong with that math… 

Power to Regulate Commerce

“To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”

The power to regulate commerce with other nations is a common power among sovereign governments, and makes sense that if the United States is an independent nation, it will require the ability to regulate commerce with other nations.  The Indian tribes were considered completely separate entities, so were handled similar to commerce with other nations.  Regulating commerce between states, has to do with the federal government ensuring states don’t overload the union with regulations restricting trade between the states, each of them intending to promote their own prosperity.  Instead, the federal government would ensure free trade between the states which they all recognized was in the best interest of all of them together (the general welfare).  This power has been abused by the federal government on so many occasions that current judicial interpretation of this power is blown way far out of proportion.  As a result, in the name of regulating commerce, the federal government has seized “authority” to regulate all kinds of things the founders never would have allowed. 

These are the first 3 enumerated powers listed in Article 1, Section 8.  As you can see, the enumerated powers are not without abuses that have arisen over the years.  We will proceed through the list of enumerated powers in the next few articles as we continue to explore the role of Congress as defined in the Constitution.  In this way, we will better understand when we need to be contacting our officials, and holding them accountable, as well as how to learn to better recognize those rare, fun days we can celebrate when our officials stay within proper Constitutional limits!  

Other posts in this series


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1 Comment

  1. Suzy Enney

    I believe both Taxes and Burrowing have become abuse of power topics the Convention of States (COS)is looking to address,
    However, at this point stopping the runaway spending and ensuring BILLS are not packed with slide through spending would be a start.
    We need to write and call often t make our voice known as well as support COS efforts. Time to exercise Article V.


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