The 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; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes;
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
Article I, Section 8, specifies the powers of Congress in great detail. These powers are limited to those listed and those that are “necessary and proper” to carry them out. All other lawmaking powers are left to the states. The First Congress, concerned that the limited nature of the federal government was not clear enough in the original Constitution, later adopted Amendment X, which reserves to the states or to the people all the powers not specifically granted to the federal government.
The most important of the specific powers that the Constitution enumerates is the power to set taxes, tariffs and other means of raising federal revenue, and to authorize the expenditure of all federal funds. In addition to the tax powers in Article I, Amendment XVI authorized Congress to establish a national income tax. The power to appropriate federal funds is known as the “power of the purse.” It gives Congress great authority over the executive branch, which must appeal to Congress for all of its funding. The federal government borrows money by issuing bonds. This creates a national debt, which the United States is obligated to repay.
Since the turn of the 20th century, federal legislation has dealt with many matters that had previously been managed by the states. In passing these laws, Congress often relies on power granted by the commerce clause, which allows Congress to regulate business activities “among the states.”
The commerce clause gives Congress broad power to regulate many aspects of our economy and to pass environmental or consumer protections because so much of business today, either in manufacturing or distribution, crosses state lines. But the commerce clause powers are not unlimited.
In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has expressed greater concern for states’ rights. It has issued a series of rulings that limit the power of Congress to pass legislation under the commerce clause or other powers contained in Article I, Section 8. For example, these rulings have found unconstitutional federal laws aimed at protecting battered women or protecting schools from gun violence on the grounds that these types of policy matters are properly managed by the states.
In addition, Congress has the power to coin money, create the postal service, army, navy and lower federal courts, and to declare war. Congress also has the responsibility of determining naturalization, how immigrants become citizens. Such laws must apply uniformly and cannot be modified by the states.