Constitution

A Convention of States A Possible Reality

It’s an idea that has been floating around for a while in some of the more frustrated circles of the conservative movement, and one that recently seems to have become a possible future political reality: an Article V Convention of the States to amend the Constitution with the goal of reigning in the growth and power of the federal government.

The newest movement to save the republic began this past Saturday on the grounds of George Washington’s old estate. Shortly before 9 a.m., nearly 100 state legislators from 32 states filed into the library that sits above the museums of Mount Vernon. It was state legislators only; supporters (and reporters) learned that the hard way, as they called for details or were stopped at the security gates.

The Slate piece is decidedly critical of the effort but it breaks down like this: Article V of the Constitution mandates that Congress convene a national convention of the States upon receipt of application for such a convention from 2/3rds of the available states. Or 34 states.

From there, 38 states would have to approve any amendments before those amendments could pass. It sounds unlikely. But then…

President Obama thinks he already saved your employer plan

At this point, everyone generally accepts that the President’s purported one-year delay in forcing you to lose your individual health insurance policy (and, more importantly, corralling you into the Obamacare exchange) was political grandstanding amounting to almost no practical benefit.  At last check, 19 states had rejected the so-called “fix.”  For those that have adopted it, congratulations on delaying the inevitable.

The Obama administration has recently tried to reframe the narrative of this fiasco by focusing on the fact that only 5% of Americans purchase an individual health insurance policy.  After all, why concern ourselves over the health plan of 14 or 15 million Americans when their sacrifices will benefit the much grander scope of universal utopia?

Senate on a slippery path with filibuster change

The manufactured crisis last week that led to extraordinary, unprecedented change to the filibuster, prompted by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats, is the first step down a road that undermines the nature of the chamber and will, almost certainly, lead to bigger changes.

The Senate was meant to be the more prestigious body of Congress and its members, given six-year terms, were selected to be responsive to state interests in Washington. Members of the House of Representatives, on the other hand, were meant to serve as the voices of the people, subject to re-election every two years.

Contrary to what President Obama said in his statement after the filibuster change, that “if you got a majority of folks who believe in something, then it should be able to pass,” the upper chamber was never meant to serve as a “voice of the people,” nor was meant to rubber stamp majoritarian views or interest.

It was meant, as James Madison once said, “to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch.” Passing legislation and approving nominees based on consensus. The filibuster — which has existed as a concept since the chamber was created and in practice since 1837 — was a tool to achieve consensus.

But, over time, the Senate has become more and more like the House, beginning in 1913 with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which mandated direct election of senators by voters in their respective states.

The Founding Fathers were concerned about a legislative branch that was too responsive to the whims of majority views, which could potentially be dangerous to essential liberty. In Federalist 10, Madison warned about the problem of faction.

Rand Paul proposes constitutional amendment to make laws applicable to Congress

If laws do not apply equally to Americans and members of the U.S. Congress, they shouldn’t be put on the books in the first place.

While this thought may seem commonsensical enough, it does not seem good enough for folks in Washington. The Affordable Care Act, for an instance, ensures that lawmakers continue to obtain federal employer contributions, which are destined to help them with their health insurance. The financial assistance that lawmakers and some Capitol Hill aides will continue to receive what amounts to an exemption from ObamaCare, which prompted Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) to act and ensure the legislative language is modified so that lawmakers are not exempt from the law.

To prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) drafted a constitutional amendment that would assure Congress “shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress.”

According to The Daily Caller, Senator Paul explained earlier in September that the amendment he was then working on was directed to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts: “If he likes Obamacare so much, I’m going to give him an amendment that gives Obamacare to Justice Roberts.”

Passing a federal budget is neither necessary nor wise

budget

As the partial federal government shutdown enters its second week, the calls for a “grand bargain” to solve all and sundry income and revenue issues have returned. The idea that Congress should pass a single, all-encompassing budget, even a balanced one, is a collective mental plague spread by inertia that must be eradicated.

Congress has not passed a full budget to fund the federal government since April 2009. Since then, unable to reach a deal on a full budget, spending has been controlled by successive continuing resolutions, adjusting total government funding levels for short periods of weeks or months each time.

Many say we have to be responsible and pass a real budget. But the truth is the concept of a single federal budget is actually pretty new. While the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 created the first federal budget process, it wasn’t until the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 that the current version of mandatory budget proposals and resolutions was adopted. For the 150-200 years before that, all federal funding was appropriated with specific bills for programs or departments.

The answer to government shutdown is less federal power, not more

In the wake of the now five-day long federal government partial shutdown, center-left pundits have wasted no time calling for drastic changes to the republic.

In the Washington Post, Dylan Matthews openly called for fascism:

Max Weber, in conversation with Gen. Erich Ludendorff, advanced my personal favorite theory of democracy: “In a democracy the people choose a leader in whom they trust. Then the chosen leader says, ‘Now shut up and obey me.’ ” People and party are then no longer free to interfere in his business.

Max Fisher, also in the Post, called for monarchy:

You might find yourself wishing that the United States could follow Australia’s example: Fire everyone in Congress, hold snap elections next month and restart from scratch. But we can’t, because we haven’t recognized the British monarchy or had a London-appointed governor -general in more than two centuries. Maybe, if we ask nicely, Britain will take us back?

The New Republic suggested the President dissolve Congress and then attack it:

Almost exactly 20 years ago, he dissolved parliament. The vice president and the speaker of the parliament dissolved Yeltsin’s presidency, and holed up with their supporters in the parliament’s headquarters, now known as “the White House.”

Then Yeltsin [sent in the tanks].

Congress’ 10 Worst Infringements on Personal Liberty

The focus in on the NSA controversy and ObamaCare got us thinking — what are the worst laws passed by Congress? So we did some thinking and came up with some of the most egregious laws to be passed by Congress. The list was so large that we had to cut it into two posts one on personal liberty and the other dealing with economic liberty, which will be posted next week.

The following list isn’t in any particular order, so don’t take one bad law being ahead of another as anything significant.

Espionage Act (1917)

The Espionage Act, passed nearly two months after the United States entered World War I, has had startling ramifications for free speech in the United States. Shortly after becoming law, Eugene Debs, a socialist and labor leader, was arrested and convicted for giving a speech that “interfered” with the recruitment of soldiers for the war effort. The law primarily used for prosecution of alleged spies and whistleblowers working in the government. For example, the government tried to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame under the act, but the jury declared a mistrial. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has also been charged under the Espionage Act. Both Ellsberg and Snownden’s disclosures were embarrassments for the government.

Indian Removal Act (1830)

There is reason to feel optimistic on this Constitution Day

Back in 2004, Congress passed an amendment offered by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to an omnibus spending bill to commemorate the signing of the Constitution and declare September 17, the day on which the document was signed by its framers, to be “Constitution Day.”

It’s ironic that a legislative body that frequently steps outside it’s limitations would pass a measure recognizing a document for which they have little regard. In the years preceding the creation of Constitution Day, Congress passed a number of measures that fly in the face of the intent and spirit of the Constitution and the rights protected therein.

But Constitution Day means a little more this year than in the past, given the renaissance the document has seen, particularly in just the past few months.

There are several examples from which we could choose to highlight the rebirth of the Constitution, such as Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster back in March or the defeat of onerous gun control measures, including expanded background checks and a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” that would have further infringed upon Second Amendment rights. But recent developments concerning the NSA and Syria are, arguably, in the back of most Americans’ minds.

Obama goes to skeptical Congress for Syria intervention

Barack Obama

In what was a welcome development, President Barack Obama announced on Saturday that he would make the case to a skeptical Congress to authorize military intervention in Syria, following an example set late last week by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

“I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable,” said President Obama in the White House Rose Garden.

“As a consequence, many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress, and undoubtedly, they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the Parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the Prime Minister supported taking action,” he continued, referencing the failed vote that took place on Thursday in Parliament.

“Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” he added. “We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual. And this morning, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell agreed that this is the right thing to do for our democracy.”

The Decline of American Exceptionalism is Not Inevitable

In one of the most iconic and powerful political ads in America history, Americans were reminded that, under the leadership of Ronald Wilson Reagan, it was once again “Morning in America”. Having suffered through the decline of America’s economic, military, and political exceptionalism under the feckless Jimmy Carter, confidence in America’s future was being restored.

Under Reagan, the ad proclaimed, “Today, more men and women will go to work than at any time in our country’s history…nearly 2000 families will today buy new homes, more than at any time in four years…Under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were just four short years ago?” It was a powerful message that resonated with the American people, and Reagan was re-elected in a landslide, taking 59% of the popular vote and 49 of the 50 states, losing only Minnesota (Mondale did not even get a majority in that state, winning 49.72% to 49.4%).

I was a boy of just eight years old when Reagan was first elected. Though I was too young to understand the intricacies and minutiae of the political debates, I remember sitting in front of our old Zenith black-and-white TV and being mesmerized by Reagan, whose cheerful demeanor and unquenchable optimism was inspiring after four years of Carter malaise, where we were told that we would have to accept a declining American economy and the spread of communism. Reagan made me proud to be an American, and I believed him when he said that America had a brighter future ahead, and that we did not have to settle for what America had become.


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