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Rand Paul

Hey Congress, American taxpayer dollars are 'not yours to give'

The following is a Senate floor speech by Sen. Rand Paul regarding the House-passed $40 billion Ukraine spending package, delivered May 17, 2022:

‘Not Yours to Give’ is a story published in Harper’s Magazine by Edward Ellis in 1867 about Davey Crockett as a Congressman in the late 1820’s. Like most stories of that vintage, some will argue that the story is an accurate rendition while others may say it is apocryphal. The moral of the story is, however, incontestable.

Crockett only served two terms but on one day in Congress he was confronted with a bill to give money to a widow of a military officer.

Davy Crockett arose and gave this speech:

“Mr. Speaker–I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but 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.

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 the public money.”

Davey Crockett continued:

“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.”

When Crockett finished there was silence and, remarkably, the bill failed.

When later asked for an explanation Davey Crockett explained:

“Several years ago, I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown.

It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could.

In spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made homeless, and, besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many women and children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them.

The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done.”

Later in the year when Crockett was home in Tennessee he ran into a constituent, Horatio Bunce. Crockett asked him for his vote and he replied:   

“you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.’

Your vote “last winter . . . shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it . . . because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is.’

Horatio Bunce continued:

“‘No, Colonel, there’s no mistake.  The newspapers “say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown . Is that true?’

Congressman Crockett answered him:

“‘Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children...

Bunce replied:

“The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be intrusted to man . . . while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he.

“If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20 million as $20 thousand.  If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper.

No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity.” Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose.

If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown , neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief.

Bunce informed Crockett that if each Congressman had shown their sympathy for the fire victims by giving one week’s pay, it would have nearly covered the cost.  But it was easier to simply give other people’s money.

Bunce continued:

“the people about Washington , no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give.”

“The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.”

“‘So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people.”

Today we are faced with a vastly greater sum of money to be contributed or gifted to Ukraine. A noble cause, no doubt. A cause for which I share sympathy and support but a cause for which the Constitution does not sanction or approve of.

Now we could ask, as Davey Crockett did, for each member of the Senate to contribute individually to Ukraine but, of course, that would simply serve to demonstrate the enormity of the gift.

To come up with $40 billion dollars, each Senator would need to contribute $400 million dollars. Not a likely scenario. It is much easier to spend such exorbitant amounts if you are spending someone else’s money.

But even if the Senators won’t agree to contribute their own money. Surely, we are a rich country and can afford it? Not exactly.

The US Debt now approaches $30 trillion dollars. In the past two years alone we have added nearly $6 trillion dollars in new debt. Inflation roars through the land. Grocery bills are punishing the working class and poor and gas prices exceed $5 a gallon.

Even before the Pandemic Bailouts, our country was running a trillion dollar annual deficit just to pay for its routine commitments.

Putting aside the constitutionality of gifting $40 billion to Ukraine, isn’t there a more fiscally responsible way this could be done?

What about taking the $40 billion from elsewhere in the budget?  The US spends more on our military than the next 8 countries combined. Couldn’t Congress simply shift over the $40 billion and not add it to the debt?

If the defense of Ukraine is really in our national security interest, shouldn’t their gift come from our military budget?

What about cutting wasteful spending? My office catalogued over $50 billion in waste. I don’t know about you, but couldn’t we cut programs like the million dollar study to see if taking selfies of yourself makes you happier when you look at the photos later. Or couldn’t we cut the budget of the National Science Foundation that spends billions studying such burning questions as “Do Panamanian city frogs have a different mating call than country frogs?” Wouldn’t it be wiser to cut wasteful spending rather than adding to the debt?

Or Congress could ask the American people to step up and pay a war tax to support Ukraine. Congress would need to nearly triple the gas tax to raise $40 billion dollars. Now, of course, that would guarantee $5 gas or worse in perpetuity.

Alternatively, Congress could raise the income tax nearly $500 dollars on every American income tax payer.

To be clear, I’m not for raising taxes to finance Ukraine’s defense. But, it’s irresponsible to simply borrow the money.

To borrow the money from China simply to send it to Ukraine makes no sense and makes us weaker not stronger.

But, let’s be honest most of Congress doesn’t seem to care about the debt, doesn’t seem to care how much money we shovel out the door and out of the country. Why? Because it’s not their money.

Every day Milton Friedman’s statement is proven correct. Nobody spends somebody else’s money as wisely as their own.

I doubt, the big spenders in Congress will ever consider spending their own money. But Americans across the land should sit up and notice and attach blame to these profligate spenders.

In the past three months, bipartisan majorities, Republicans and Democrats have added over $100 billion dollars to our debt. Now these same big spenders are proposing another $50 billion dollars to bail out our restaurants primarily injured by Democrat dictates in blue states.

There are ramifications to this mountain of debt. Make no mistake, inflation is here and it is rip-roaring and on the rise.

Just as aiding the victims of fire in Georgetown ignored the misfortune of suffering people far distant from Washington, so too, does today’s deficit spending,  ignore the pain and suffering of the inflation caused by that debt.

Inflation is an increase in the money supply that comes from the Federal Reserve buying US Debt. M2, a broad measure of the money supply, has been increasing at approximately 15% over the past three years. Last January, the annualized rate was 27%.

All of this so-called free money floods the market and chases prices higher. Adding to our debt will only make the problem worse.

So, yes, our national security is threatened, not by Russia’s war on Ukraine, but by Congress’ war on the American taxpayer. The vast majority of Americans sympathize with Ukraine and want them to repel the Russian invaders but if Congress were honest they’d take the money from elsewhere in the budget or ask Americans to pay higher taxes or heaven forbid loan Ukraine the money instead of gifting it.

But Congress will do what Congress does best – spend other people’s money. I, for one, will not. I will vote no. Somewhere, somehow a voice of fiscal sanity must remain vigilant, must remain stalwart and steady in a sea of fiscal madness.

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