03/09/2011 10:22 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Congress's First Power Demolishes Tea Party's "Constitutional Principle"

According to Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), much of what the federal government has done for decades, perhaps an entire century, is not just bad policy, it is beyond the powers granted by the U.S. Constitution. The Tea Party took that belief a step further, claiming that since its actions are beyond its powers, the federal government was a "tyranny". Tea Party candidates ran on a platform of "returning to Constitutional principles".

One wonders if Congressman Paul, or any of the Tea Partiers running on such a platform actually bothered to read the Constitution, or whether they just purchased worn, dog-eared copies to convey that impression.

The very first enumerated power granted to Congress in Article I, section 8, of the Constitution definitively dispels their belief. Unlike the third power, the "Commerce Clause" that has been the subject of centuries of Supreme Court interpretation to determine what is interstate commerce is in a growing, changing and increasingly integrated economy, Congress's first power requires no such midwifery.

Clause 1: 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;

The first 14 words grant Congress the power to raise money -- the 16th Amendment added "income tax" to the means (Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises) allowed to raise money.

The next 17 words, "to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States", specify what the money raised is to be used for.

Most simply stated, Clause 1 grants Congress the power to raise money to pay the debts and spend on the common defense AND the general welfare.

Common defense. General welfare. Where did we hear those phrases before? They were part of the mission statement of the United States of America, as set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution.

The general welfare. There is no adjective or adverb qualifying that authority. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 grants the United States government the unqualified and unlimited power to raise and spend money, for example, to: provide healthcare for the elderly (or for everyone); provide old-age pension; build roads, bridges, train tracks, airports, electric grids, libraries, swimming pools, housing; educate our children, re-train the unemployed, provide pre-school and day care; fund public health projects; invest in and conduct basic research; provide subsidies for agriculture; save the auto industry; create internets; and, yes, Tea Party Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), even provide emergency aid from natural disasters, and so forth. All subsumed under the authority to spend for the general welfare.

And, of course, the 18th power under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is by its own wording combined with each and every power in the Constitution:

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Otherwise known as the "necessary and proper clause", the 18th power makes it as clear as the Supreme Court Justice's financial disclosure rules that the Congress has the authority to enact any law to spend money in pursuit of the general welfare.

That that authority to raise and spend money for the general welfare is broad, deep and unqualified, does not, of course, compel that it is exercised. But, the authority to do so is emblazoned right smack dab as the first of all the powers of Congress.

What about the 10th Amendment, reserving powers not granted to the Federal Government to the States or its citizens? For a specifically stated Article 1 power, the 10th Amendment is irrelevant. That power has been granted. The "necessary and proper clause" provides additional authority to make all Laws to execute the granted powers. One does not even need to address the history of this Amendment and the decision not to include the word "expressly".

Anyone, of course, can argue the wisdom of this or that expenditure. But, the authority to do so was conveyed by the States and its individual citizens when they ratified the Constitution.

It is not, oh Tea Partiers, "tyranny" or a "usurpation" to exercise that authority.

Perhaps you are sorry they did that. But they did. In the Constitution of the United States of America, worn, dog-eared or otherwise.

After all, what's a Founding Father to do?