Several months ago, after I wrote earmark, Dannye sent me a link to a story about Davy Crockett, and how he opposed the payment out of the US Treasury for the widow of a naval officer, because "as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money". If you read the constitution, the first paragraph states that the United States Government is meant to "promote the General welfare", so that any promotion of the welfare of naval officers, especially below the rank of admiral, is unconstitutional. Of course, it may be that Davy Crockett, himself a colonel, was jealous that he was not permitted to share in the bonanza.
Although, perhaps this is not the time to be a strict constructionism.
"Promote the general welfare", used in the preamble to the United States constitution, along with goals of Justice, Tranquility and Defence, is one of the major reasons why the United States constitution, and thus, its government, was established. What the founder's intent was in using this phrase I do not know, and I must admit I am woefully ignorant of what interpretations may have been made for it over the years. If anyone is up on this, feel free to tell me. However, in my mind, it is a fairly large category---anything that could possibly be seen as contributing to the public good could be included, and that is quite a bit. In addition, later on in Section 8 of the constitution, where it mentions some of the duties of congress, the "general welfare" is mentioned again, along with other specific duties of congress. This perhaps means that the founders intent was that the "general welfare" would include, but not be limited to the other things mentioned, which are themselves fairly broad. Clause 7, for example, includes the establishment of "Post offices and post roads", which again could perhaps include any type of investment in transportation infrastructure. And Clause 8 says that congress shall "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" (although this goes on to mention the ideas of patents, so whether that means that congress' intervention into the field of technology should include simply include patents, or be limited to it, I don't know.) In any case, it seems that the promotion of the general welfare could be taken fairly broadly---and that it is mentioned in the basic preamble, and again in the section on Congress. However, the scope of that power is not specifically layed out, perhaps because the founders trusted the citizens and their representatives to figure out what would be a useful promotion of the general welfare for themselves.
What is most interesting to me about this is the fact that some modern political theorists paint the constitution as being written in a way to keep the role of government intervention to a minimum, with the only role of government being defense and justice. Later additions of government programs to help people were merely a result of creeping sloth and lack of moral fiber as people left the minimalistic intent of the founders. However, the minimalistic view of the governments role was a much later development, I think. Although Adam Smith had published the Wealth of Nations, the economic ideas in it were probably not widely known in the colonies, and the growth of capitalism (and the word itself) were decades off. And Milton Friedman and the even more devoted followers who believed that markets had an almost divine justice were almost 200 years in the future. If anything, it seems that the extreme minimalist take on government is the retcon and anachronism.
Although the fairness and efficiency of government "promoting the general welfare" can be debated, it seems very obvious that it was a right that "We the People" reserved for ourselves.