<< The Body Politic

Constitution Day event re-cap

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Happy Constitution Day! In honor of the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, on Thursday, the Program on American Citizenship hosted the first annual Walter Berns Constitution Day lecture: “Spending, public debt, and constitutional design: Remarks by Michael W. McConnell.” Missed the event? Here’s a quick re-cap, and you can watch the full video over at the event page:

With America’s debt now totaling over $16 trillion, many Americans are worried about the lack of resolve with which politicians on both sides of the aisle are confronting the issue. On Thursday evening, at the first annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture hosted by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, Michael W. McConnell of Stanford Law School argued that although America’s politicians might not have many serious things to say about the debt problem, the nation’s founders — and the documents they produced — do.

By constitutional design, McConnell noted, only the legislature — not the executive — can borrow, and the spending power of Congress is limited to “general, not local” purposes. Thus, the now amorphous general welfare clause of the Constitution once had a very specific meaning: it was to be used only for projects that would extend throughout the Union. According to McConnell, the now common practice of earmarking federal funds for local projects violates this national compact.

But since the Constitution can be — and is often — ignored, alleged McConnell, the founders’ constitutional design by itself is not enough to bring fiscal sanity and responsible government. For this reason, he encouraged Americans themselves to take up the cause, for in the end, they are “the only protections that really count.”