Understanding the Constitution of the United States: Article 1, Section 8: The Powers of the Congress

Image of the U.S. Constitution from http://wvconstitutionaladvocates.com/u-s-constitution/

Image of the U.S. Constitution from http://wvconstitutionaladvocates.com/u-s-constitution/

Section 8: Powers of the Legislative Branch

People often blame the President of the United States for the national debt, and while there are some places where the executive branch does influence and in some cases (war for example) cause spending it is the legislative branch that is responsible for taxation, borrowing money and establishing the budget. The first several of the enumerated powers of the legislative branch deal explicitly with this:

The congress is to:

-To Collect Taxes, duties, imposts and excises to provide income for the federal government

-To borrow money on the credit of the United States

-To regulate commerce with foreign nations and internally

The congress establishes the tax code, sets any fees and duties for goods imported into the country as well as fees for the use of federal resources. Congress is responsible for borrowing money, and this has been an issue recently when the congress has shut down the government by refusing to borrow money or to pass a budget. When these actions have downgraded the credit rating of the U.S. government it also is the congress’ responsibility. Congress is responsible for trade within the United States and across the borders and the states are heavily limited in their ability to impact interstate or international trade in ways that would be an impediment for other states (see section 10).

The next enumerated power deals with how a person becomes a citizen of the United States. The executive branch can, for example, make a case for comprehensive immigration reform but ultimately it is the House of Representatives and Senate who is empowered to set the rules for how a person can legally become a citizen. The system as we have it today, with all of its flaws, is a result of the decisions of the legislative branch.

The next set of enumerated powers deals with the currency of the United States which also falls under the responsibilities of the congress. As enumerated in the constitution:

-The congress establishes laws on the subject of bankruptcies

-The congress has the power to coin money, or to determine how much money is printed in the United States and the value of that currency as well as establishing the standards for weights and measurements used in trade and commerce

-The congress is also responsible for protecting the integrity of the currency of the U.S. by providing for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and coin of the U.S.

Bankruptcy came into the United States system from its precursor in the English code of law, although as it developed in the United States it moved from being a quasi-criminal act to being a system to allow businesses and individuals to focus on repaying the debts after suffering a heavy loss. U.S. bankruptcy code has been amended several times, most recently with the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. The congress also determines how much money the U.S. Mint will print and what the value of that currency is. The value of U.S. currency is based upon the trust of the people for the government, not on any gold or silver or other standard. Even without a gold standard the U.S. currency has traditionally been viewed as a safe commodity and a standard currency for trade throughout the world. The congress also is responsible for ensuring that the weights and measures used for trade throughout the country are consistent so that a bushel in Texas is the same as a bushel in Wisconsin for example. Finally they are responsible for ensuring that the currency of the United States is not counterfeited. This is done in multiple ways, through the elaborate design of U.S. currency and through law enforcement agencies like the Secret Service.

The next two enumerated powers also are related to the promoting commerce, communications and providing a place where intellectual property is protected

-They are responsible for establishing the postal system and the roads that the postal system will use.

-They are to promote the progress of science and the arts by providing a trademark and copyright system to protect the investment of scientists and artists in their writings and discoveries.

In creating a postal system and a network of roads for inexpensive communication helped to facilitate the nations expansion westward. The establishment of trademark and copyright law also was instrumental in the ability of intellectual property to be protected. Trademark law, mainly defined under the Lanham act, prevented the use of source-identifying mark by another to utilize that brand’s name or popularity. For example, if you purchase a pair of shoes with the Nike swoosh on it you are anticipating that it was designed, manufactured and marketed by Nike and is not an imitation. Copyright law protects the intellectual property and is defined in the Copyright act of 1976.

-They constitute tribunals (courts) lower than the supreme court. In recent years this has become an area of struggle between the two parties and between the executive branch. Congress has frequently held lower courts vacant rather than hold hearings on candidates that the executive branch recommended that they didn’t want to act upon. Yet, the constitution of the lower courts is an important part of the ideal of establishing justice and insuring domestic tranquility as outlined in the preamble of the constitution.

Most of the remaining enumerated powers relate to providing for the common defence:

-They define and punish piracy and felonies committed at sea

-They have the power to declare war, approve treaties and penalties after a war and establish the rules concerning prisoners captured in war

-They provide for the funding of the U.S. military (both Army and Navy are established in the constitution)

-They also create the laws that the military forces operate under (the Uniform Code of Military Justice)

-They also provide for the calling forth of a militia (the original military of the United States had a very small professional army/navy very different than the U.S. Military’s current structure but this is where the National Guard/Reserve components of the military come from). The congress is also responsible for organizing, equipping and disciplining the militia.

-They are responsible for setting aside (with the cooperation of the states) federal properties to be used as military installations, dock yards, and other needed buildings.

The final enumerated power was included to make space for unforeseen legislation that the congress would need to enact. It was a controversial addition to the constitution but ultimately the necessary and proper clause, as it is known, because some, like Patrick Henry, believed it would lead to limitless appropriation of power by the federal government, but it was included over these arguments giving congress the power to make any laws which are necessary for the execution of the above powers.

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2 Responses to Understanding the Constitution of the United States: Article 1, Section 8: The Powers of the Congress

  1. Pingback: Understanding the Constitution of the United States: Article II the Executive Branch | Sign of the Rose

  2. Pingback: Toward Healing a Broken Republic | Sign of the Rose

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