What a constitutional federal budget would look like

As you may know, Dear Readers, the US Constitution authorizes only a very limited federal government: limited in what it is allowed to do, including the range of issues it is allowed to handle and spend money on.

Domestically, the federal government is authorized only to protect copyrights and patents, prosecute those who counterfeit US currency and securities (as well as traitors and spies), govern the District of Columbia and federal territories, prevent the emergence of barriers to interstate commerce such as interstate tolls, handle mail delivery, protect civil rights, coin money and regulate its value, and fix the standard of weights and measures.

On the foreign front, the federal government is responsible for providing for the common defense, managing foreign affairs and regulating commerce with foreign countries and Indian tribes.

The limited, enumerated powers of the federal government are listed and explained in more detail here, here, and here.

That being the case, I’ve decided to produce this blueprint of a federal budget based solely on what is authorized by the Constitution.


The articles by expert lawyer Publius Huldah (dealing with the powers of the legislative, executive, and judicial branch of the federal government) were used to determine what programs and agencies are constitutional and which ones are not (see herehere, and here).

Unconstitutional programs would, of course, have to be abolished if the Constitution were to be strictly enforced – either immediately (e.g. the Departments of Education and Energy) or gradually phased out while honoring the promises made to current seniors.

Constitutional programs and agencies would be retained. What funding should they receive is a separate matter beyond the scope of this article; it was assumed for the purposes of this article that they would  (at least initially) be retained at their FY2012 funding levels. In the future, of course, Congress may increase or decrease their budgets as it sees it and as national needs dictate.

For purposes of this study only, the President’s FY2012 Budget Proposal, as depicted by graphic artist Jess Bachmann in his FY2012 budget poster, was used to obtain the numbers proposed by the President for various programs. If newer budget figures for some agencies are available, they are given.

On this basis, it was assumed that constitutional federal programs and agencies would be funded at the levels requested by the President for FY2012, while unconstitutional federal programs and agencies would be abolished or gradually phased out.

The results

This study has found that  the majority of current federal programs and agencies are unconstitutional; that is, the federal government has grown far beyond the limits authorized by the Constitution.

Constitutional agencies and programs

Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution authorizes the Congress to spend money only on a limited range of programs, agencies, and objects.

Those agencies and programs which are constitutionally lawful include:

1) The Department of Defense. Defense is the #1 Constitutional duty of the federal government; and the Constitution authorizes an Army and a Navy. The DOD’s budget request for FY2012 was $667 bn, but it was never approved and a Consolidated Appropriations Act was passed and signed instead. For FY2013, the Congress has just passed a $633 bn Authorization Bill, while the Defense Appropriations Bill awaits Senate consideration. For FY2013, we will assume, in line with the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act, that the defense budget is $633 bn. Sequestration, however, will cut that amount significantly.

2) The DOE’s National Security programs, including nuclear weapons and facilities, defense environmental cleanup, and naval nuclear reactors. $19.979 bn. (The rest of the DOE is unconstitutional, however.)

3) The Department of the Treasury (which has existed since the Washington Administration): $14.043 bn.

4) The Department of Justice: $20.910 bn minus the DEA ($2.002 bn) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives ($1.147 bn), as federal laws related to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives are unconstitutional. Total:  $17.761 bn.

5) The Department of Homeland Security ($43.436 bn) minus those of its programs which violate civil liberties protected by the Constitution and the TSA ($5.114 bn).

6) The Department of Veterans’ Affairs: $58.775 bn.

7) The Department of State ($50.921 bn) minus foreign aid, the Millenium Challenge Corporation, the Peace Corps, and International Narcotics Control, leaving $31.662 bn. This includes Foreign Military Financing for allies such as Israel, as well as International Peacekeeping and US contributions to international organizations of which the US is a member (whether these expenditures should continue as a matter of usefulness is a separate issue).

8) The National Archives and Records Administration: $407 mn.

9) The District of Columbia: $458 mn.

10) The US Postal Service: $5.947 bn. (While the USPS is constitutional, it should be privatized.)

11) The International Trade Administration: $517 mn.

12) The Department of the Interior: $12.057. Its tasks include, inter alia, protecting national forests and managing federal lands, although arguably federal lands in western states should be transferred to these states or to seniors in exchange for them renouncing their claims to SS and Medicare benefits.

13) The US Census Office (authorized by the Constitution to conduct a census every 10 years): $1.025 bn.

14) The US Patent Office.

15) The National Institute of Standards and Technology to enforce uniform standards of weights and measures: $1.004 bn.

16) The Office of Governmental Ethics: $14 mn.

17) The Executive Office of the President: $469 mn.

18) The Legislative Branch: $5.032 bn.

19) The Judicial Brach: $6.853 bn.

20) The Army Corps of Engineers: $4.574 bn.

21) A Civil Rights Commission to oversee the observation of civil rights.

22) A Federal Election Commission to conduct elections to the US House of Representatives and, unless and until the 17th Amendment is repealed, to the Senate.

23) Every four years, there may be additional expenses for the inauguration of a new presidential term.

24) The Securities and Exchange Commission: $1.408 bn.

While these are 23 different agencies and programs, they collectively add up to only $853.307 bn. This means that only $853.307 bn out of the federal budget is constitutional. Or, if we use solely Jess Bachmann’s numbers, borrowed from the President’s FY2012 budget proposal, for the DOD, only $891.307 bn per year out of all federal spending is constitutional.

This is only 24.057% of the total proposed FY2012 budget ($3.699 trillion). That means that over 75% of the federal budget for FY2012 was unconstitutional. More than three quarters!

In other words, out of every dollar that Washington spends, only 25 cents are spent on constitutional agencies and programs, and 75 cents are not.

Unconstitutional programs

This means that all other federal programs and agencies are unconstitutional.

This includes Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which collectively cost $1.498 trillion in FY2012 (all of these programs are already in the red, i.e. the payroll taxes levied to pay for them are already insufficient to cover their costs). The Constitution does not authorize such (or any other) entitlement programs. (However, they cannot be abolished outright and would have to be phased out gradually over a few decades because many seniors are dependent on them.)

The Departments of Education, Energy (except defense-related programs, which should be moved to the DOD), Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Commerce (except a few DOC agencies) are completely unconstitutional as well, as are all other federal agencies, including the myriad small, unconstitutional agencies such as the “National Labor Relations Board” and the “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission”.


A constitutional federal budget – i.e. one for a federal government limited to its constitutional powers and duties (defense, foreign affairs, international trade, maintaining standards of weights and measures, protecting civil rights, organizing the census, enforcing bankruptcy laws, prosecuting traitors and spies, and delivering mail)  – would be a budget just one fourth the size of the current federal budget.

However, because a vast majority of Americans opposes any entitlement reform, and because both Republicans and Democrats support immoral, unconstitutional, and unaffordable “social safety nets” and other unconstitutional programs (such as the Departments of Education and Agriculture), the federal budget is as large as it is today, and America is drowning in debt, with all the financial and economic consequences stemming from that.


6 thoughts on “What a constitutional federal budget would look like”

  1. Excellent!

    Also, if the unconstitutional federal criminal (drugs laws, firearms laws, etc., etc.) & civil laws were repealed, we could get rid of most of the federal judges, and most of the attorneys and supporting personnel on the staffs in the Department of Justice and in the offices of the U.S. Attorneys.

    There are also many unconstitutional acts of Congress which created “rights” to recover civil damages and other relief for, e.g., violations of Americans with Disabilities Act, etc., etc., etc.. These federally created civil causes of action require ever bigger staffs in the federal offices and ever more federal judges and staff to handle all the new litigation.

    Congress, with its unconstitutional criminal laws and unconstitutional laws providing rights to file lawsuits for violations of the federal “rights” they keep creating, is the prime source of job creation for lawyers. Lawyers tend to LOVE big government. B/c they get so much work from it. This is why all the legal organizations I have ever heard of are liberal/progressives.

    My profession has become a leech on the body politic.

    1. You’re right. I haven’t thought of that. Nonetheless, maintaining surplus federal judges, US Attorneys, and courts is merely wasteful, not unconstitutional.

      Yes, the Congress should repeal all unconstitutional federal statutes and regulations.

      1. Just a minor technical point: Each of the 93 or so federal districts has one “U.S. Attorney” appointed by the President. Their job is to prosecute violations of those few federal laws which are constitutional. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Attorney Their offices are constitutional.

        If we repealed all the unconstitutional federal criminal statutes and unconstitutionally created civil causes of action (i.e., congressionally created “right” of individuals to file lawsuits for money damages, etc.), then we could fire all or most of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and their support staffs.

  2. I would dispute the Department of the Interior. I don’t think that the Federal Government was ever intended to maintain nearly as much land as it does. Also, the budget for DC right now covers all 50+ miles of the city. The Constitution only alllows for a 10 sq mile seat of power.

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