Friday, July 30, 2010

The Power to Destroy or How Charlie Rangel Got Tangled in His Own Web

From my forever in progress book on the history of taxation in the United States entitled The Power to Destroy.

Chief Justice John Marshall penned the famous words: “…the power to tax involves the power to destroy.”

"In FY 2008, the U.S. Congress pushed through $17.2 billion in pork attached to 12 appropriations bills. There were many moments to cherish but we will consider but one here; certainly not the biggest earmark but one of the most interesting.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), a nineteen term representative, asked for and got $1,950,000 for a library and archives at the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at The City College of New York. In other words Congressman Rangel received $1.95 million dollars of my money and yours to finance a little library named for himself at a college in his district. He was challenged in his request by a mere two term republican from California, John Campbell who said, “You don’t agree with me or see any problem with us, as members, sending taxpayer funds in the creation of things named after ourselves while we’re still here?” Rangel did not. He responded, “I would have a problem if you did it, because I don’t think that you’ve been around long enough that having your name on something to inspire a building like this in a school.” Huh?

We have strayed too far. This should cause us to converge on Washington. But we have become complacent. The budget is too big, too unwieldy. We’re busy. We have our own jobs to do.

Consider this too. In 2006 138.9 million people filed income tax returns. Approximately 32% of those who filed did not pay income tax, leaving 94.5 million tax payers. If we took Charlie Rangel’s earmark and divided it amongst each of us it would come to something like $0.021 per taxpayer. I don’t know about you, but I might be willing to spot Charlie the two cents if the rest of you were, but when you consider the 17.2 billion in earmarks in FY 2007—that rises to $182 per taxpayer in pork. And if you consider the tally of pork since the Citizen’s Against Government Waste have been keeping track of pork barrel spending in 1991 the total is $271 billion which has cost American taxpayers around $2,868. For some that is a great deal of money. For others it is not.

But the important fact is that it is your money, not theirs. And the fact is, that money is being allocated for pet projects not for the kind of expenditures provided for under the Constitution. Certainly not the way most of us would spend our own money given the other demands on us like food and clothing and providing for our retirement or our children's education. One of the greatest concerns of the Founder’s when creating this nation was the responsibility of government to protect property rights, not confiscate them. Allocating your money for “projects” not requested by or approved of by you is not freedom. It is tyranny. As I thumb through the 2008 Pig Book Summary I see $1.5 million for the Appalachian Fruit Lab, $7.6 million for grape and wine research, $4.8 million for wood utilization research, $1 million for berry research, $750,000 for olive fruit fly research, $211,000 of which is to be spent in Paris, France, millions and hundreds of millions for space centers and aquariums and presidential libraries, for shrimp and lobster and oysters, sea lions and seals, bears and and latinos. Brown tree snakes in Hawaii, 54 million for the ABL Facility Restoration Program, whatever that is, and on and on and on. This is above and beyond the regular budget of $2.7 trillion or $28,900 annually per tax payer households. This is not counting the $32,000 of the U.S. debt that belongs to each citizen. In my household that obligation is 32x 4."

I wrote the above two years ago. The debt per person in the almost two short years Obama has been in office has ballooned to $42,800. We now understand that Charlie Rangel's corruption goes far beyond the interchange I featured. If we stretch our imaginations just a bit we can imagine that there is plenty more of the Charlie style of Congressional entitlement among our representatives yet to be revealed . We wouldn't have to work too hard to conjure up the kinds of frivolous projects the $787 billion stimulus bill is now bankrolling. While many of us seek desperately for jobs, scrape by each month and watch our children's futures click by on the national debt clock. $13 trillion. $13.1 trillion $13.2 trillion...

I am sorry Mr. Rangel will end his career in disgrace. I am sorry that he got caught up in the tangled web of greed. I am sorry that Congress continues to act irresponsibly, recklessly with our children's and their children's futures. I am overwhelmingly sorry. But there is just a little part of me that sees the Rangel case as a pin hole of light, a kind of hope that even in the midst of corruptness, there is a modicum of justice. I am holding onto that.

With a vengeance.

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