The U.S. Government Should Promote the General WelfareRoundup
tags: infrastructure, Economic Policy, social democracy, social welfare
Dr. Lawrence S. Wittner is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement (2009).
An event revealing a great deal about the kind of government Americans want occurred this March, when members of the U.S. Congress voted on the American Rescue Plan. This legislation, staunchly supported by the Democrats, provided federal funding for the provision of life-saving vaccines, the re-opening of public schools, expanded benefits to the unemployed, a direct payment to millions of hard-pressed Americans, the lifting of millions of children out of poverty, and other vital public programs.
And what was the response of Congressional Republicans to this legislation, passed amid the worst disease pandemic for a century and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression? Every one of them voted to kill the measure. Almost immediately after the legislation was unveiled, Senator Pat Toomey, a top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, denounced it as "a colossal waste." According to Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, "this bill is too costly, too corrupt, and too liberal." Apparently, spending money to support the welfare of Americans is an extravagance—and not an appropriate function for the U.S. government.
By contrast, the Constitution of the United States declares clearly, in its Preamble, that a key purpose of the U.S. government is to "promote the general welfare." Furthermore, promoting the general welfare is the usual reason that people around the world support some sort of governing authority. After all, if a government doesn't promote the welfare of its people, what good is it?
Although there have been plenty of governments that have not promoted the general welfare, these usually turn out to be quite unpopular. Some, like monarchies or other forms of dynasty, promote the interests of a powerful family. Others, such as oligarchies, promote the interests of a wealthy class. Still others, like theocracies, promote the interests of a particular religion. Finally, some, like Communist dictatorships, though professing to support the working class, promote the interests of a ruling political party.
It could be argued that the Republican Party, with its lurch rightward in recent decades, has been adopting aspects of all these approaches. It certainly hasn't been promoting the general welfare.
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