Le Québécois Libre, March 15, 2010, No 276.
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 big government.
Of course, 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.
Domestically, 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 lines.
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.
Executive orders 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.
Only Congress 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!
A president 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.
Perhaps the 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:
If Congress 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.”