In a recent post, I explained that Congress obtains authority to spend money from its enumerated powers. All of those powers inherently require some expenditures—at least to buy the pen and ink needed to write the laws. Some powers, such as the power to “maintain a Navy” (Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 13) require expenditure of great deal of money.
In addition, the Necessary and Proper Clause (I-8-18) enables Congress to spend funds to carry out a power in ways customary at the Founding or reasonably necessary. For instance, Congress may hire revenue officers to collect the taxes authorized by I-8-1 because such was Founding Era custom, and it may maintain IRS websites because such has become reasonably necessary for efficient tax collection.
The Constitution imposed several limits on taxes, of which two are important here. First, Congress could tax only to raise funds to be spent “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” (I-8-1). During the Confederation era, there had been many cases of states discriminating against other states, even in conduct of the Revolutionary War. As explained during the ratification debates, the General Welfare Clause was designed to ensure that taxes could not be imposed purely to benefit particular sections of the country or particular special interests. The goal was to ensure that government spent money impartially—a goal inherent in the Founders’ belief that government was a public trust, subject to fiduciary standards.Details