All Commentary
Tuesday, September 1, 1992

Letter to a Congressman

Dr. Dow, an Alabama resident, shared this letter with the staff of FEE. We thought it deserved wider distribution.

Dear Congressman:

I am writing to you to add some of my thoughts on the federal budget beyond the answers I gave on your multiple choice survey. You will notice that I have checked the box indicating a desire to cut spending in each category listed. These responses are not given lightly; I considered each item listed before giving my response.

In a number of cases I would have much preferred to check a box in favor of eliminating the program rather than simply cutting its budget; in this category I would include college financial aid, mass transit, energy conservation, research and development, space programs, assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies, war on drugs, arts and humanities, and farm programs. These are all activities which should be funded privately, if at all. That is, those with an interest in funding such things should do so voluntarily, rather than through taxation or by incurring debt for future generations.

Much of the problem with the federal budget has arisen out of the mistaken concept of a “right” to basic goods and services, and I am disturbed by your promotion of this concept in the headline from your newsletter: “Health Care: An American Right.” This idea has all but destroyed an understanding among the public of the true concept of rights as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, where rights refer to areas where governments are proscribed from interfering with the individual, not to things which individuals can feel justified in having the government provide by stealing from others.

In this regard I would ask you to ponder the following words of Davy Crockett, spoken to the U.S. House of Representatives in regard to a bill to appropriate money for a “worthy cause” when he was a Congressman from Tennessee:

. . . we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of public money . . . .

. . . I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.

The bill failed. Of course today it would be impossible for congressmen to fund any but the tiniest of the programs they debate out of their own pockets, and it is extremely rare for a congressman to consider the question of whether it is in his delegated authority under the Constitution to make budgetary commitments to all of today’s massive programs.

We have seen great progress in this country since Davy Crockett’s day, progress that has come by and large through the hard work and private enterprise of individuals seeking to better their lives. The destruction of the principle of limited government is a great threat to that progress and to our future.

Congressman, you have attained a position where you can help alleviate this threat if you can find the courage to place yourself above the constant cries from all of those pleading for more favors, appropriations, and regulations. I would ask you to climb to higher ground and consider not just what certain of your constituents would like from the government, but what right you have to dole those things out from funds taken by force from current taxpayers or borrowed against credit based on government’s ability to extract money by force from our children.


Stephen J. Dow