For almost two years now, ThinkProgress and the Wonk Room have tracked tentherism, the widespread conservative belief that pretty much everything the federal government does is unconstitutional. Hardcore tenthers believe, among other things, that because the Constitution does not mention education, federal education programs such as Pell Grants, federal student loans and grants for low-income students are all forbidden. At a town hall meeting earlier this week, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) laid out a kind of “tentherism-lite.” Under Farenthold’s misguided view of the Constitution, Congress is still allowed to spend money on education, but they can’t make sure that the money is being spent wisely:
My broad general principle is that if you read the Constitution of the United States, it doesn’t talk about education, which to me means our founding fathers intended to leave it to the states. . . . In a perfect world, I would turn [all federal education funding] back to the states with some block grants.
Needless to say, Farenthold’s creative theory of the Constitution bears little resemblance to the actual text of the document. Article I of the Constitution provides that “[t]he Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” Broadly speaking, this empowers Congress in two ways. Congress may spend directly to benefit the general welfare, as it does with programs like Medicare or Social Security, but it can also offer grants to the states which require the state to accept certain conditions if they take the money. Thus, for example, Congress requires states that accept federal Medicaid funding to actually spend that money on health care for the poor, and if a state doesn’t want to comply with this condition they can turn down the funds.
The same rule applies to federal education funds. Texas has the right to turn down federal education funding, but it does not have the right to simply take free money and thumb its nose at any conditions that come with it. Farenthold, however, seems to believe that Texas can have its cake and eat it too — that national leaders are allowed to fund education, they just can’t have any control over this funding.
On it’s surface, this may appear to be a more moderate position that full-bore tentherism, but it would undoubtedly lead to the end of all federal/state partnerships such as federal education grants or even Medicaid. If Congress isn’t allowed to place any conditions on the money that it gives the states, then it isn’t even allowed to tell Texas that it has to spend federal Medicaid grants on health care for poor people and not on hats for Gov. Rick Perry’s wife.
It’s worth noting that Farenthold’s position is so radical that it was even rejected by Judge Roger Vinson, the Tea Party judge who released an opinion striking down the Affordable Care Act with at least 40 separate factual and legal errors, and who has continuously defied the Constitution and binding Supreme Court precedent in order to do the Tea Party’s bidding.