In the course of a discussion with a supporter of Ron Paul, it was stated that we should eliminate the federal income tax. I pointed out that this was a campaign to destroy the United States of America because there is no way for the national government to pay its bills without the income tax. To this I received the response that would be a good thing because then the national government would be constrained to the powers enumerated in the Constitution. That is not a reasonable response. Here is why.
In 2010 the total revenues of the United States Treasury were $2.2 trillion dollars. Of that 42% or $924 billion was from individual income taxes, 40% or $880 billion was from payroll taxes, $198 billion was from corporate income taxes, 3% or $66 billion was from excises and 6% or $132 billion was from other sources. If you eliminate individual and corporate income taxes and payroll taxes, which are a dedicated tax on income, the government revenues fall to $198 billion.
If you take the very narrow definition of constitutional enumerated powers to exclude the general welfare and a restrictive interpretation of the commerce clause advocated by many on the right, you have some government expenses remaining, specifically:
- Defense at $847.2 billion,
- Interest at $196.2 billion,
- Protection at $54.4 billion, and
- General government at $24.7 billion
Or a constitutional expense of $1,122.5 billion – and a deficit of -$1,077.5 billion. That is almost the kind of deficits we are currently running. If we require a balanced budget, as do many on the right, we would have enough to pay the interest on the national debt with $1.8 billion left over for defense, protection (e.g., Homeland Security and border control), and general government (i.e., the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government).
Notice that this involves a default on the national debt in the form the termination of all current and future Social Security and Medicare benefits. That’s even without the balanced budget amendment!
It also would result in the termination of all federal grants to state and local governments for a wide range of things including health and human services, education, and transportation.
It would also eliminate all federal disaster relief for hurricanes, tornados, floods, fires, drought, and earthquakes.
Eliminated would be any subsidy to farmers and businesses. Cuts in subsidies to oil companies would drive up the cost of gasoline.
Maintenance of national parks would end. The Constitution says nothing about national parks. It would end payments in lieu of taxes on federal properties to states and local communities. For that matter, it makes no mention of the purchase of land from foreign nations. Were the Louisiana, Gadsden and Alaska purchases constitutional?
The income tax was agreed to by three quarters of the states in 1913 and by every state admitted to the Union since. It was agreed to because we, the people, recognized that duties, imposts and excises were insufficient to pay the costs of government a century ago. An income tax was first proposed in 1812 to pay for the costs of that war. The United States actually found the income tax necessary in 1861 to pay the expense of the national government. It was subsequently ruled by the Supreme Court to violate Article I, Section 9, which eventually lead to the 16th Amendment.
The United States has changed dramatically since the Constitution was first written in 1787. It has grown from a nation of around 3 million to nearly 400 million, from an area of less than 900 thousand square miles to over 3.5 million square miles. It has changed from a rural, agricultural society to an urban industrial and technological society. People are much more mobile now than then. The 50 states are far more interdependent and interrelated than the original 13, partly due to the success of the Constitution and national government promoting interstate commerce.