Does Rick Perry Think Medicare and Social Security Are Unconstitutional?

By
Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux/Getty Images

As Texas Governor Rick Perry prepares to enter the presidential race tomorrow, the Daily Beast has just released the full transcript of an interview that Newsweek ran only partially last November, since at the time, writer Andrew Romano explains, "few readers knew who Perry was, or cared." Now that a lot of people do care, it's a good time to check on what Perry thinks of America's cherished entitlement programs:


The Constitution says that “the Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes … to provide for the … general Welfare of the United States.” But I noticed that when you quoted this section on page 116, you left “general welfare” out and put an ellipsis in its place. Progressives would say that “general welfare” includes things like Social Security or Medicare — that it gives the government the flexibility to tackle more than just the basic responsibilities laid out explicitly in our founding document. What does “general welfare” mean to you?

I don’t think our founding fathers when they were putting the term “general welfare” in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care. What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address. Not the federal government. I stand very clear on that. From my perspective, the states could substantially better operate those programs if that’s what those states decided to do.

So in your view those things fall outside of general welfare. But what falls inside of it? What did the Founders mean by “general welfare”?

I don’t know if I’m going to sit here and parse down to what the Founding Fathers thought general welfare meant.

But you just said what you thought they didn’t mean by general welfare. So isn’t it fair to ask what they did mean? It’s in the Constitution.

[Silence.]

How significant is this? With entitlement reform now a goal of both parties, including President Obama, supporting changes to cherished programs like Medicare and Social Security isn't nearly the third-rail that it was even a year ago. But Perry doesn't just want to tweak these programs — by say, raising the retirement age of Social Security or means-testing Medicare to exclude well-off citizens. According to this interview, he doesn't think the federal government should be in the Medicare and Social Security business at all. In fact, he seems to think it might be unconstitutional to do so.

Perry's ideal reforms would be far more extreme than most voters would be willing to stomach. Mitt Romney — or President Obama, if it gets to that point — would have a pretty easy time combining Perry's anti-entitlement position with his secession talk and his support for abolishing the direct election of senators to portray him as too radically anti-government even for this anti-government moment we're experiencing. Of course, Perry still has plenty of time to throw his own small-government beliefs under the bus, as he's already done time and again.

Perry’s Entitlement Problem [Daily Beast]