Along with all the conservative euphoria over Donald Trump’s win has come the inevitable practice of fantasizing about the vast array of possibilities available to roll back the destructive progressive agenda advanced unconstitutionally by the Obama administration, all made possible by Republican control of Congress and some 33 state legislatures, with talk of constitutional amendments at the top of the list.
Article V of the Constitution provides for two methods to propose amendments. Either the House and Senate can refer an amendment to the states by a two-thirds vote of each chamber, or two-thirds of the state legislatures can request that Congress call for a convention of the states. Both methods require three-fourths of the states to ratify an amendment before it takes effect. That’s 38 states, and with 33 state legislatures controlled by Republicans, this marks a rare opportunity to reach for the brass ring of a constitutional amendment.
The two most frequently mentioned amendment topics by conservatives are term limits for Congress and some form of a balanced budget amendment. Many fear that a constitutional convention called by the states might devolve into free-for-all with progressives advancing all manner of anathema in the form of amendments. This is possible, but the fact that ratification by 38 states is necessary for adoption makes it unlikely any progressive lunacy would ever get past the proposal stage. However, there is always the possibility of uncertainty involved, and the thought that some alignment of events might transpire to allow for the adoption of an amendment favorable to progressives at the expense of the country looms large in the conservative worldview. Having suffered through eight years of the progressive Obama administration which has taken the country to the brink of destruction, this is a very sobering thought indeed.
The more likely route of having amendments proposed by Congress eliminates the possibility of the fears surrounding a constitutional convention, but opens up other fears of an uncertain future whereby progressives somehow manage to regain control of the federal government to exercise an option Republicans would have shown to be possible by their exercise. In other words, the passage of a constitutional amendment by Republicans would demonstrate the future possibility of passage by progressives.
First, the overwhelming rejection of the progressive agenda of destruction by Americans this election greatly reduces the likelihood that Democrats will in the near future regain the control they have enjoyed under the Obama administration. Add in the reelection of Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader and the proposed candidacy of Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison as DNC Chair, and it is apparent that the Democrats are doubling down on the progressive agenda which Americans just overwhelmingly rejected, thus risking the very viability of the Democrat Party as a national political entity.
Second, Republican President Richard Nixon passed the 26th amendment to lower the voting age to eighteen back in 1971 with no opening of an amendment floodgate. The process of amending the Constitution was purposely made difficult by the Founders to resist the temptation of proposing amendments in the heat of political passion. Being a difficult proposition in the best of political climates, few politicians are willing to spend the political capital necessary to advance an amendment.
While it is unlikely that the process of ratifying an amendment will be abused due to its complicated nature as intended by the Founders, it would behoove conservatives to carefully consider the ramifications of any proposed amendments. We have watched activist Supreme Courts find all manner of rights oblivious to us ordinary Americans carefully hidden among the constitutional amendments. Abortion, homosexual marriage, affirmative action, and various other affronts to the intentions of the Founders have all been legitimized by the Supreme Court as existing within one or more of the constitutional amendments. Future Courts could easily abuse the best intentions of the most carefully worded amendment to invent new rights which progressives would never get Americans to accept in a vote. While this should never be a reason to prevent us from the pursuit of an appropriate constitutional amendment, it should give us pause to grant careful consideration to any proposed amendment.
In a fit of expediency and piqued that Republicans were successfully blocking President Obama’s progressive agenda, Senator Harry Reid unleashed the nuclear option while Senate Majority Leader of bypassing the filibuster rule to make confirmation of Obama appointees possible with a simple majority vote. Now that Senate Democrats find themselves beholden to a Republican majority, their shortsightedness is coming back to haunt them unable as they now are to provide much of a resistance to Republicans eager to exercise Reid’s gift to future Congresses. It would have paid Reid and Senate Democrats to have more fully considered Republican warnings that exercising the nuclear option would come back to haunt them in the future when Senate Republicans occupying the majority would be free to use it against them. As we now see, Reid should have been a lot more careful in wishing to exercise the nuclear option.
Conservatives have advanced the idea of a balanced budget amendment for years with the intention of forcing Congress to live within its means by legislating against deficit spending. Prominent conservatives supporting a balanced budget amendment point to the fact that every state except Vermont already has some form of balanced budget requirement. One fact prominently missing from their arguments is the widespread use of budget tricks employed by various states to adhere to the letter of their balanced budget requirements while avoiding their spirit. Former Republican Governor Bobby Jindal ran Louisiana into the ground employing budget balancing tactics such as the use of one-time federal grant money, redefinition of taxes as user fees, and pushing expenditures into the future while saying with a straight face that he passed balanced budgets under his administration. Given this abuse, it is ludicrous to think Congress will suddenly become a group of enlightened angels astonished at the thought of evading the spirit of the law, especially given how they constantly evade the spirit of numerous other laws under which they expect Americans to abide.
Consider also the profligate spending of the Obama administration which has added some ten trillion dollars to the national debt with nothing to show for the effort. President Obama took the idea of being a tax-and-spend Democrat to new heights by standing it on its head and first spending the money without the unpopular distraction of raising the taxes. Under Obama, America realized its first trillion-dollar deficits – an act which was unthinkable to Americans until Obama was bold enough to do so. Obama left the repayment of this debt to future generations who may have no choice but to raise taxes unless President Trump can reignite the economy enough to generate the revenue necessary to avoid tax increases that further stifle economic growth.
Now, consider that the typical tax-and-spend Democrat could launch his own spending spree given the right set of economic circumstances. Under the balanced budget amendment as conceived by its conservative supporters, Congress would then be required to raise taxes to offset any deficit spending required by this Democrat administration. The Democrat president could then force Congress to raise taxes while claiming that the balanced budget amendment required increased taxes to offset the deficit spending he would be claiming was needed to stimulate the economy. An accommodating Republican opposition could merely shrug their shoulders while pointing to the balanced budget amendment and an era of unrestrained spending justified by a legalistic interpretation of the balanced budget amendment could easily unfold. Not an appealing scenario for conservatives to contemplate I would think.
It’s tempting to believe that Americans would never allow this to happen again given our proximity to the toxic spending of the Obama administration, but many of us recall the toxic Carter Administration and the reawakening of the country as the Reagan tax cuts reignited the economy. Americans have short attention spans busy as they are managing their own lives and tend to ignore politicians until they ruin the country. America is resilient, but there could easily come a time when that resiliency is stretched to the breaking point.
The intention of a balanced budget amendment is to prevent deficit spending and force the government to live within its means with a side benefit of limiting the growth of government. What these pie-eyed conservatives fail to consider is the nature of humans and their capacity to avoid spending restraint. The American economy is built upon credit and encourages Americans to spend beyond their means. An entire cottage industry exists catering to Americans who find themselves unable to extract themselves from the debt they have piled up. On one end of the spectrum, Dave Ramsey advises debt-ridden Americans how to pay off their debt and rid themselves of debt angst. On the other end exist payday loan agencies, bankruptcy lawyers, and credit restoration services promising to fix debt problems and return Americans to their lifestyles of indebted consumption. If Americans are unable and unwilling to honestly live within their means in their personal lives, what makes these conservatives believe that politicians spending the public fisc will attempt to do any better?
It occurs to me that a much better idea for a constitutional amendment intending to limit the size of government would involve the elimination of Cabinet positions, or a return of the constitutionally appropriated power Congress has unconstitutionally transferred to unelected bureaucrats in federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Unelected and unaccountable EPA bureaucrats operating under the Executive Branch issue rules having the same power as laws passed by Congress while Congress is content to reduce itself to mere budget administrators. Another very worthy idea would be the elimination of omnibus legislation which allows duplicitous Congressmen to bury all manner of legal perversions unnoticed within massive bills whose size is intended to be so large as to be unreadable in a timely manner. Legislation should be direct and to the point so Americans can easily grasp its intention.
There exist a number of excellent ideas worthy of consideration as constitutional amendments that have presented themselves over the course of our experience administering this most unique form of government. They should be weighed carefully and designed along the simplest of lines much like those of the Founders which have served us so well over the course of our history. Even then, their effectiveness will only be as great as the humility of the men who govern us under their requirements. The Founders realized the true nature of man which James Madison so accurately summed up in The Federalist #51 with the quote “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Being that they are not angels, every effort must be undertaken to prevent their abuse of the power which is temporarily granted to them by the people through the Constitution and its system of checks and balances. Like all laws, constitutional amendments are required whenever free men fail to exercise the personal responsibility necessary for the maximization of their liberty.