Between now and September 30, 2023, Congress must fund the government, a task it has been unable to do on time for 27 consecutive years. The only kind word to describe Congress and the president during appropriation season is that they are “pixilated,” “mildly insane, bewildered, tipsy” over their inability to manage the nation’s money. If a corporation managed its books in the same manner as our federal government, it would be a fraudster, and the feds would be actively shutting it down. Fortunately for Congress, President Herbert Hoover, the man many blame for the Great Depression, provided advice for the ages, “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the National Debt.”
Why would Herbert Hoover make such a comment when the National Debt was only $23 billion dollars when he left office in 1933? Hoover and all presidents and Congresses after him knew the answer. If the federal government taxed current citizens the total amount of the programs it funds, there would be a tax revolt, and all elected officials would lose their jobs. So, there is no controlling federal spending as long as the nation has children who will inherit the national debt.
The United States is 247 years old. By the end of Biden’s term in office, the last seven of forty-six presidents, in their forty-four combined years in office, will have borrowed $34 trillion, in addition to the trillions spent annually to run the nation. That is 94% of the estimated FY 2025 national debt of $36 trillion. Each taxpayer’s share of the national debt exceeds $250,000. The average personal income in the U.S. is $63,211. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that our national debt will continue to increase from 98% of GDP in 2023 to 181% in 2053. Over the next ten years, the federal government will pay an additional $10.5 trillion in interest on the debt.
Unfortunately, our Constitution is only as good as the people we elect to manage the nation. It has few guardrails as to the type of government established. The federal government can operate as a capitalist or socialist government as long as our rulers are elected and give lip service to the Constitution. The dialogue in the debate plays out like a long-running Broadway show. Well-rehearsed Conservatives argue for less domestic spending and more military spending. Better rehearsed Progressives advocate for more domestic spending and less military spending. The only issue both parties have historically agreed upon is spending more money.
Moreover, a sober reading of the words of our Constitution illuminates the fact Article I, sec. 8 of the Constitution establishes the federal government as an unrestrained tax master that has unlimited taxing, spending, and borrowing authority. The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution expanded Congress’ power to tax without apportioning taxes among the states. Its power to tax extends to all gross income. The monies collected can used to reward friends with subsidies, deductions, and tax credits to minimize the taxes of those that support the government in power. The tax code is loaded with gifts to friends and private industries, from semiconductors to NASCAR and horse racing, and low carried-interest tax rates for the wealthiest.
Federal spending solidly rests on U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hold high taxes are not considered involuntary servitude or the taking of property. Excessive, even confiscatory taxes, are authorized under the Constitution. Marginal tax rates were above 90% from 1944 to 1963.
To the federal government, taxation is a means to collect money to keep politicians in power. The average citizen is a mere commodity whose only duty is to pay taxes and die in one of the many useless wars that benefit only the defense industry and those politicians to which it contributes money.
Democrats and Republicans are jointly responsible for the National Debt. Republicans, for all their righteous calls for fiscal restraint, are responsible for 57% of it through FY 2022. This percentage, however, will come into balance as the Biden administration is projected to add another $ 6 trillion or more to the national debt by the end of its first term.
The chart below illustrates that both parties equally share the blame for the national debt.
|Republicans||Democrat||Total National Debt|
|Hoover||FY1930-1933||+ 5.7 billion||$ 23 billion|
|F. Roosevelt||FY 1934-1945||+$ 236 billion||$ 259 billion|
|H. Truman||FY 1946-1953||+$ 7.3 billion||$ 266 billion|
|D. Eisenhower||FY1954-1961||+$ 23 billion||$ 289 billion|
|J. Kennedy||FY 1962-1964||+$ 22.8 billion||$ 312 billion|
|L.B. Johnson||FY 1965-1969||+$ 41.8 billion||$ 353 billion|
|R. Nixon||FY 1970-1974||+$121.1 billion||$ 475 billion|
|G. Ford||FY 1975-1977||+$223.7 billion||$ 698 billion|
|J. Carter||FY 1978-1981||+$ 299 billion||$ 997 billion|
|R. Reagan||FY 1982-1989||+$ 1.86 trillion||$ 2.857 trillion|
|G.H.W. Bush||FY 1990-1993||+$ 1.55 trillion||$ 4.407 trillion|
|W. J. Clinton||FY 1994-2001||+$ 1.4 trillion||$ 5.807 trillion|
|G.W. Bush||FY 2002-2009||+$ 5.85 trillion||$ 11.665 trillion|
|B. Obama||FY 2010-2017||+$ 8.6 trillion||$ 20.257 trillion|
|D. Trump||FY 2018-2021||+$ 8.2 trillion||$ 28.845 trillion|
|J. Biden (estimate)||FY 2022-2025||+ $7.2 trillion+||$ 36.0 trillion|
|Party totals||$ 17.83 trillion||$ 17.82 trillion|
Since all branches of the federal government have manipulated the Constitution to acquire more federal power to tax, spend, and borrow, how can citizens control it?
There is a passage in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail on unjust laws that should be mandatory reading for every elected official and their staff. It extends far beyond the heinous evils and unjust nature of racial discrimination. It is a timeless analysis of the fundamental attributes of structuring “just laws” in a democracy.
King is asked: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” He replied, “…there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws.” He explained the moral basis for the distinction. But his two examples of the differences provide insight into structuring “just laws” in a democracy.
To Dr. King, an unjust law is a law the majority imposes on a minority but not itself. A just law applies to all equally.
Secondly, an unjust law is inflicted upon a group that had no part in its passing, e.g., deprived of the right to vote.
While these principles apply to racial discrimination, they can also be applied to the rapidly increasing, massive national debt imposed on future generations who have not been given a “say” or “vote” in the process. Future generations are being told, “Pay our bills.”
It is improbable the federal government will pay off the debt in the lifetime of those living today. We, citizens, are allowing the federal government to let us live on the future productivity of those who have not voted for or benefitted from the debt being created.
We can easily claim there is nothing we can do; our elected leaders control the budget, spending, and continuing increases in the debt ceiling. Moreover, we are constantly told those borrowed funds go to the many “good causes” supporters claim must be addressed.
Notwithstanding the immense power exercised by federal officials, citizens are responsible for the actions of the state. If we continue to allow the federal government to amass debt, we are telling future generations “they have no rights. All wealth belongs to the federal government and those it decides to give money to.” The U.S. is an unjust nation to its children.
Benjamin Franklin, the first prophet on the evils of federal spending, noted, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” Today, we elect representatives who campaign on giving us trillions of dollars more than we send to Washington in taxes. Franklin reportedly also quipped when asked about the type of government created by the Constitution “We have a Republic if we can keep it.”
It looks like our pixilated federal government will be a Republic until our elected officials run out of green ink. Alternatively, our children could get off their climate change obsession and lobby the federal government to control its spending, an action that will really preserve the U.S. for its children.
William L. Kovacs has served as senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, chief counsel to a congressional committee, and a partner in law D.C. law firms. His book Reform the Kakistocracy is the winner of the 2021 Independent Press Award for Political/Social Change. He can be contacted at [email protected]