Paul Ryan’s Words on Libraries – Updated

Update 4/3/2014 – After my initial post, I realized it needed a few changes. 

You may have had heard that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposes eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Here are the exact words from his budget resolution:

Promote State, Local, and Private Funding for Museums and Libraries. The Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services is an independent agency that makes grants to museums and libraries. This is not a core federal responsibility. This function can be funded at the state and local level and augmented significantly by charitable contributions from the private sector.

This paragraph is the only mention of libraries in the entire budget document. I personally find the lead sentence pretty deceptive. Cutting federal funding or eliminating an agency does not “promote” funding from other levels. If he had offered a tax break for private entities to fund libraries, the “Promote State, Local, and Private Funding for Museums and Libraries” would be less disingenuous. As it is, it seems to want to provide cover against a charge the man hates libraries. Otherwise why not simply lead off “Eliminate IMLS” rather than some mysterious “promote” that comes with no action?

While Rep Ryan claims that this cut is solely on the basis that supporting libraries is not “a core federal responsibility (Update 1)“, a look at the summary provided on pages 1-14, shows that he’s willing to spend to promote business and continue (reduced) education funding, neither which can be found as a federal responsibility within the exact words of the US Constitution.

Go read it yourself. The only mention of business is in Article I Section 5 and refers to Congress:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

The word education does not appear in the Constitution at all and the word Commerce appears only twice:

In Article I Section 8:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; (Update 2)

In Article I Section 9:

No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another; nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.

So, if Rep. Ryan were really only about funding and otherwise use the power of the federal government on “core federal responsibilities” as defined by the US Constitution, he would not be dealing with business within US borders or education at all.  Instead, like most of us, Rep. Ryan wants to fund areas that he believes are important to the nation as a whole.

Libraries are important, particularly to education and economic development. The American Library Association (ALA) has a whole page on the positive impact of libraries that points to studies done in the following areas:

Representative Ryan could have even visited his State’s Department of Public Instruction’s Public Library Development section’s web site to find a list of positive economic impacts.

In its response to his budget proposal, ALA not only looked at the impact of libraries nationwide and the key role of IMLS in leveraging their work, but also examined the use of libraries in Ryan’s own district:

In Rep. Ryan’s own state of Wisconsin, more than 65 percent of libraries report that they are the only free access point to Internet in their communities. Just a few blocks from Rep. Ryan’s Wisconsin office, more than 716,000 visitors used the Hedberg Public Library in Janesville, Wisconsin to access library computers and research databases, check out books and receive job training in 2013. The Institute of Museum and Library Services administered more than $2.8 million in the 2014 fiscal year to help Wisconsin libraries prepare young students for school and provide lifelong learning opportunities for all Wisconsin residents. For example, the state reported that more than 215,000 children participated in summer reading programs at Wisconsin public libraries.

So, if Representative Ryan and the rest of the House Republicans really want to spend money on non-Constitutional responsibilities like economic development and education, libraries really ought to be part of the mix. If they don’t like libraries for other reasons, they should be up front about it and not hide behind the Constitution or “core federal responsibilities.”

UPDATE 1 – You’ll notice that I took Rep. Ryan’s “core federal responsibility” and started talking about the Constitution. While the current FY 15 budget resolution never mentions the word “Constitution”, his 2012 blueprint mentions “core constitutional roles” on page 10 of the PDF file. This and the way “constitutional” pops up in the 2012 budget proposal makes me confident that “core responsibility” can still be read as “core constitutional responsibility” in the 2015 budget proposal. 

UPDATE 2: This is actually the Interstate Commerce Clause, which has been interpreted to allow the federal government into many different areas, including economic development. However, conservative groups that Rep. Ryan seems friendly with, including the Heritage Foundation, take a narrow view of the Interstate Commerce Clause. In a Heritage Foundation  2011 report, Commerce, Commerce, Everywhere, the Uses and Abuses of the Commerce Clause, David Forte writes:

In recent decades, scholars have investigated anew the Framers’ view of the commerce power. Randy Barnett argues that, to the Framers, commerce meant the trade or exchange of goods, including the means of transporting them. Richard Epstein finds that the commerce power includes “interstate transportation, navigation and sales, and the activities closely incident to them. All else should be left to the states.” Raoul Berger opines that “the Founders conceived of ‘commerce’ as ‘trade,’ the interchange of goods by one state with another.” Grant Nelson and Robert Pushaw assert a somewhat broader view. They interpret the founding documents as providing Congress the authority to regulate or prohibit “any market-based activity that affects more than one state,” which includes the manufacturing, farming, environmental, safety, financial, and labor effects of commercial activity.

In the worldview of the Framers, informed by their struggle with England and their experience with the Articles of Confederation, the direction of economic policy centered on two powers: the regulation of commerce and the regulation of the money supply. (Taxation, on the other hand, was primarily for raising revenue.) The Constitution removed from the states the power of coining money and the power over interstate commerce and lodged both with the Congress, with the proviso that Congress could not discriminate against any state or region in the exercise of those powers. The Framers believed that both those powers were sufficient for the Congress to shepherd national economic policy. The Framers felt no need to give the Congress the direct power to regulate local activities not otherwise included in its delegated powers. As Justice Marshall put it in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824):

The genius and character of the whole government seem to be, that its action is to be applied to all the external concerns of the nation, and to those internal concerns which affect the states generally; but not to those which are completely within a particular state, which do not affect other states, and with which it is not necessary to interfere, for the purpose of executing some of the general powers of the government. The completely internal commerce of a state, then, may be considered as reserved for the state itself.

So it seems like activity that would promote business falls outside the “core constitutional responsibilities” referred to but not defined in the 2012 budget which have transmuted into “core federal responsibilities” in the 2015 budget. 

I must admit to being a little surprised about having over 200 visitors and not one call me out on the Interstate Commerce Clause. 

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