Political Correction

Fact Checking The Sunday Shows - September 19, 2010

September 20, 2010 10:00 am ET

A huge state and a tiny one dominated the Sunday political talk shows, with the Tea Party takeovers in Alaska and Delaware sucking most of the oxygen out of other subjects. Still, Karl Rove brought his white board to Fox News Sunday and used it to misrepresent the polling on President Obama's proposed middle-class tax cuts. Despite Rove's cherrypicked numbers, major polls show a clear majority of Americans want the rich to start paying their fair share again. Alaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller, meanwhile, argued erroneously that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional. The question was settled in 1937 when the Supreme Court found the constitutional responsibility of Congress to "provide for the general welfare" included providing food money to the jobless.

Fox News Sunday

CLAIM: Karl Rove Misleadingly Cited One Poll To Argue Americans Oppose The Obama Tax Plan

CHRIS WALLACE (host): But the question is, uh, all the polls that I look at indicate that when people are asked, do you want to see the tax cuts for the wealthy extended, people by— y'know, a majority oppose that prospect. So, so in that sense—

KARL ROVE:  No that's not accurate. That's not accurate. Take a look at this. These are again are-these are Rasmussen numbers. D'you wanna end the Bush tax cuts or extend all the Bush tax cuts. Extend 56, end all of 'em 41. If a more nuanced view, do you wanna extend the Bush tax cuts, uh, all of the Bush tax cuts, 51, or extend only those that aren't for the wealthy, 44. It's still a winner even if you put it in the way, in the way the Democrats are, which is, we only wanna extend 'em for the people making less than $250,000 a year.

FACT: The Balance Of Polling On The Subject Shows Americans Want Tax Breaks For The Rich To Expire

Gallup Poll: 59% Of Americans Favor Ending Tax Cuts For Those Making Over $250,000.  According to a September 2010 Gallup poll: "A majority of Americans favor letting the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration expire for the wealthy. While 37% support keeping the tax cuts for all Americans, 44% want them extended only for those making less than $250,000 and 15% think they should expire for all taxpayers." [Gallup, 9/10/10]

CNN Poll: 69% Of Americans Favor Ending Tax Cuts For Those Making Over $250,000.  A CNN poll in late August found that a majority, 51 percent, favors President Obama's plan to extend tax cuts for the middle class while allowing the tax cuts for those making over $250,000 per year to expire.  Eighteen percent believe all of the tax cuts should expire. [CNN, 8/20/10]

CBS Poll: 56% Of Americans Favor Ending Tax Cuts For Those Making Over $250,000.  According to CBS News: "The tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush are set to expire at the end of the year, and Democrats and Republicans will spar this fall over whether to extend them for all Americans, or to allow the tax cuts to expire for the richest Americans. A new CBS News poll finds that a majority of Americans, 56 percent, say the tax cuts should expire for households earning over $250,000 per year, as Democrats have proposed. Thirty-six percent of Americans say they should not be allowed to expire." [CBS News, 8/26/10]

National Journal Poll: 57% Of Americans Favor Ending Tax Cuts For Those Making Over $250,000.  As reported by the Washington Post, a new National Journal poll found that "[t]wenty nine percent support ending only the tax cuts for the rich, and 28 percent ending all the tax cuts -- meaning a total of 57 percent support letting the tax cuts for the rich expire. Only 29 percent, or less than a third, support the GOP position of keeping all the tax cuts in place. Support also runs strong among independents, with 28 percent supporting ending the tax cuts for the rich, and 31 percent supporting an end to them all -- a total of 59 percent." [Washington Post, 9/14/10, emphasis added]

CLAIM: Alaska Senate Candidate Joe Miller (R) Claimed Unemployment Benefits Are Unconstitutional

CHRIS WALLACE (host): Mr. Miller, if I may, because I'm not sure you answered my question-why are unemployment benefits unconstitional? [...]

JOE MILLER (R-AK): I think what you need to look at is the context. We had an extension of unemployment benefits several weeks ago which is beyond what we've had in the past in this country. What we have in this country is an entitlement mentality. It's an entitlement not just at the individual but even at the state level, that, uh, if all goes wrong, it's the federal government's role to get in there and provide for the general welfare, to basically provide for the solvency, particularly of states and other entities, what, the auto companies, the banks? Everything else that fails, the government should be involved in bailing out. And y'know, the Constitution provides enumerated powers. And I guess my challenge is, to anybody that asks, show me the enumerated power, and then look at the Tenth Amendment that says, if it's not there in the Constitution, it's a power that belongs to the state and the people. And I think we as a people need to stop being disingenuous about what the Constitution provides for. It does not provide for this all-encompassing power that we've seen exercised over the last several decades. It's what's gotten us into this bankrupt position.

FACT: Unemployment Benefits Are A Constitutional Use Of Federal Power Since Supreme Court Said So...In 1937

While Joe Miller sees the idea that the federal government exists in part to "provide for the general welfare" as part of some "entitlement" sickness, that function is enshrined in the Constitution and was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1937. For more on the Republican belief that Washington should not help the unemployed, read HERE, HERE and HERE.

U.S. Constitution: "The Congress Shall Have Power To...Provide For The Common Defence And The General Welfare Of The United States." Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution begins: "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..." [U.S. Constitution, accessed 9/19/10]

Supreme Court, U.S. v Butler: "These Words Cannot Be Meaningless, Else They Would Not Have Been Used." In the majority opinion in the 1936 case United States v Butler, Justice Owen Roberts wrote:

The Congress is expressly empowered to lay taxes to provide for the general welfare. Funds in the Treasury as a result of taxation may be expended only through appropriation. They can never accomplish the objects for which they were collected unless the power to appropriate is as broad as the power to tax. The necessary implication from the terms of the grant is that the public funds may be appropriated "to provide for the general welfare of the United States." These words cannot be meaningless, else they would not have been used. The conclusion must be that they were intended to limit and define the granted power to raise and to expend money. How shall they be construed to effectuate the intent of the instrument?

Since the foundation of the Nation, sharp differences of opinion have persisted as to the true interpretation of the phrase. Madison asserted it amounted to no more than a reference to the other powers enumerated in the subsequent clauses of the same section; that, as the United States is a government of limited and enumerated powers, the grant of power to tax and spend for the general national welfare must be confined to the enumerated legislative fields committed to the Congress. In this view, the phrase is mere tautology, for taxation and appropriation are, or may be, necessary incidents of the exercise of any of the enumerated legislative powers. Hamilton, on the other hand, maintained the clause confers a power separate and distinct from those later enumerated, is not restricted in meaning by the grant of them, and Congress consequently has a substantive power to tax and to appropriate, limited only by the requirement that it shall be exercised to provide for the general welfare of the United States. Each contention has had the support of those whose views are entitled to weight. This court has noticed the question, but has never found it necessary to decide which is the true construction. Mr. Justice Story, in his Commentaries, espouses the Hamiltonian position. We shall not review the writings of public men and commentators or discuss the legislative practice. Study of all these leads us to conclude that the reading advocated by Mr. Justice Story is the correct one. While, therefore, the power to tax is not unlimited, its confines are set in the clause which confers it, and not in those of § 8 which bestow and define the legislative powers of the Congress. It results that the power of Congress to authorize expenditure of public moneys for public purposes is not limited by the direct grants of legislative power found in the Constitution.

[United States v Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936); accessed 9/19/10 via Justia.com, emphasis added, internal citations removed for clarity]

1937: U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Unemployment Benefits Are Constitutional. In the majority opinion on Steward Machine Co. v Davis, Justice Benjamin Cardozo wrote:

The tax, which is described in the statute as an excise, is laid with uniformity throughout the United States as a duty, an impost or an excise upon the relation of employment...

The excise is not invalid under the provisions of the Fifth Amendment by force of its exemptions...

The excise is not void as involving the coercion of the States in contravention of the Tenth Amendment or of restrictions implicit in our federal form of government...

To draw the line intelligently between duress and inducement there is need to remind ourselves of facts as to the problem of unemployment that are now matters of common knowledge.  The relevant statistics are gathered in the brief of counsel for the Government. Of the many available figures a few only will be mentioned. During the years 1929 to 1936, when the country was passing through a cyclical depression, the number of the unemployed mounted to unprecedented heights. Often the average was more than 10 million; at times a peak was attained of 16 million or more. Disaster to the breadwinner meant disaster to dependents. Accordingly, the roll of the unemployed, itself formidable enough, was only a partial roll of the destitute or needy. The fact developed quickly that the states were unable to give the requisite relief. The problem had become national in area and dimensions. There was need of help from the nation if the people were not to starve. It is too late today for the argument to be heard with tolerance that, in a crisis so extreme, the use of the moneys of the nation to relieve the unemployed and their dependents is a use for any purpose narrower than the promotion of the general welfare.

[Steward Machine Co. v Davis, 301 U.S. 548 (1937); accessed 9/19/10 via Justica.com, emphasis added, internal citations removed for clarity 

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