AIG hysteria tramples liberty

From Dave Trabert, president of the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy.

The Founding Fathers, who took such deliberate care to preserve personal liberty in our Constitution, would be ashamed by the hysteria and pandering that have consumed Washington, D.C., over bonuses paid to employees of American International Group.

There is no justification for rewarding people for failure, but the conduct of elected officials calling for legislative retribution is far more egregious.

Members of both parties are tripping over one another in a rush to endorse legislation that would tax bonuses paid to employees of companies receiving bailout money at rates as high as 90 percent.

Not that Congress should be giving away taxpayer money for handouts to failed companies, but it easily could have prevented this mess by putting some restrictions on the money.

Taxpayers are justifiably angered by the lack of fiduciary responsibility, and Congress is predictably responding with diversionary tactics.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, hit the nail on the head, saying, “This bill is nothing more than an attempt for everyone to cover their butt.”

As unseemly as that is, it pales in comparison with the assault on the Constitution and our personal freedom. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, called the legislation “an ex post facto bill as well as a bill of attainder, which is unconstitutional, so they’re using the tax code to punish people.”

“Ex post facto” is a legal term referring to an attempt to go back in time and apply new circumstances to something that already has occurred. A bill of attainder is a legislative act that singles out an individual or group for punishment. Both are prohibited by the Constitution.

Some members of Congress may be acting like children, but this isn’t a game in which the rules can be changed to alter the outcome. It is of paramount importance that Congress act responsibly to preserve the principles of liberty and freedom. Today the issue is bonuses paid to AIG employees, but there are endless opportunities to use the tax code punitively.

For example, House and Senate leaders are pursuing the elimination of secret balloting in order to make it easier for unions to form. Imagine if they decided to encourage the behavior they wanted by imposing special taxes on nonunion workers.

Using the tax code to punish people who raise the ire of Congress is wrong under any circumstance.

If Congress really wants to show leadership in going after those responsible for this latest abuse of taxpayer money, it should pass the hat at the next joint session.

In the meanwhile, we must send a very strong message to Washington:

Knock off the grandstanding, start acting like the leaders you promised to be, and keep your hands off our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and liberties.

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