A Constitutional Question

by Don Boudreaux on June 16, 2011

in Law

In response to this post about Uncle Sam’s bribes paid to the government of Brazil, my friend Reuvain Borchardt (Fordham Law, ’10), as well as commenter “hamilton,” challenge my suggestion that these payments to Brazil are unconstitutional.

They might have a valid point.

My initial thought is that the U.S. Constitution does not authorize Uncle Sam to tax Americans in order to acquire cash used to buy (allegedly) desirable commercial policies from foreign governments.  Would it be constitutional, for example, for Uncle Sam to subsidize the building of steel factories in Thailand if Congress determined that such factories would redound to the economic benefit of Americans?

But on second thought perhaps the Brazilian cotton bribes do, arguably, fall under the meaning of “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations.”

I’m not at all sure that such payments would have been recognized by the framers as falling within the meaning of that clause.  But I’m not sure that they wouldn’t.

What do you think?

Either way, of course, the fact that a majority of the members of the House (including a majority of the GOP members) voted to keep most farm subsidies in place is itself sufficient evidence that these members of Congress take seriously neither their oaths of office nor their proclamations that they are in Washington to help reduce the size and power of Uncle Sam.


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