As ThinkProgress has previously noted, there is a radical strain of conservativism, dubbed “tentherism,” that invokes the Tenth Amendment to claim that a whole host of uncontroversial federal government programs — like Social Security and Medicare — are unconstitutional. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has even adopted this philosophy to claim that child labor laws are not permitted by the Constitution.
Now, in an interview with Streetsblog Capitol Hill, one radical conservative has declared yet another common public good to be unconstitutional: bike paths. In an interview about federal transporation issues, Streetsblog asked Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) about supporting legislation that would support things like bike trails. Hunter responded by saying that he doesn’t “think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the transportation committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because you have us mandating bike paths, you don’t want either.”
Streetsblog followed up by asking if he was okay with “mandating highways.” Hunter responded by saying that he doesn’t “see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane” because “it’s more of a recreational thing”:
STREETSBLOG: I was just in an [Environment and Public Works] Committee hearing and there was some talk about the fact that some small amount of money in the [transportation] reauthorization historically gets used for things like bike trails. Some people think that’s waste; some people think biking is a mode of transportation. What do you think?
HUNTER: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.
STREETSBLOG: But you’re OK with mandating highways?
HUNTER: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.
STREETSBLOG: How is it different?
HUNTER: I think it’s more of a recreational thing. That’s my opinion.
Hunter’s argument is puzzling. Neither highways nor bike paths are explicitly spelled out as government powers in the U.S. Constitution. Rather, both are justified by the General Welfare clause, which allows the government to “promote the general welfare” of the American people. Earlier in the interview, Hunter cited the postal clause of the Constitution as allowing for specific authorization for Congress to authorize certain forms of legislation. Yet this clause in question specifically cites the ability to fund “postal roads” — meaning that highways would not be considered, given that the postal service at the time obviously did not use automobiles, which would require highways.
And for the record, biking isn’t only “recreational.” In 2000, the Census found that nearly half a million Americans bike to work. In cities like Portland up to 4.4 percent of all commuter trips are made via bicycling. It’s likely that even more Americans would utilize bicycles if bike-friendly paths and lanes were expanded across the country. But that would hinge on legislators not falsely believing them to be unconstitutional like Hunter.