April 22, 2011
The States Must Restrain the Federal GovernmentBy Mac McDowell
Three reports have been released this month that all come to the same conclusion; we, as a nation, are about to go down the drain economically if the Federal Government cannot bring its spending habits under control. First it was the Pew Charitable Trust with its addendum to the No Silver Bullet report; then the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook; and finally Standard & Poor's Ratings Service which lowered its long-term outlook for the United States' sovereign debt to "Negative" from "Stable." But this is old news as far as reports go.
Last July the Congressional Budget Office issued a report that compared the United States with Greece and Argentina. The report, entitled Federal Debt and the Risk of a Financial Crisis, said that financial collapse could happen suddenly and without much warning. But even this report was out of the starting gate late. Fiscal conservatives have been saying this as far back as the Reagan Administration.
Despite the deafening chorus of think tank harmony (a rare event indeed), liberal pundits and administration officials are denying the reality of the risk. The danger here is that they all probably believe their own propaganda over the well researched studies from these reputable organizations. They call that denial.
For more than twenty years the federal government has been acting like Charlie Sheen on a binge, and it is time for the states to perform an intervention. The tough course of action is to call for an Article V Convention (AVC) to pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But what does that mean?
Article V of the Constitution says that there are two ways to amend the Constitution. The one that has been successful so far is that both Houses of Congress must pass a resolution with the exact same language by a two thirds majority. Once that resolution has been passed, then that resolution is sent to the states where three quarters of the state legislatures pass the amendment (or not). Once that is done it becomes an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This method has been followed successfully twenty-seven times for over two centuries.
The other method has never actually been used. However, the language in Article V is very clear:
The last three words here are significant. Article V is not an Article for calling a Constitutional Convention (Con Con). It is for amendments only. An AVC is very limited in the scope of what it can do. Any AVC must comply with the spirit and intent of what the founding fathers meant. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper Number 85 a very clear intent about Article V of the Constitution, in the third to the last paragraph he writes:
Hamilton's words here are not only insightful but almost prophetic. But Hamilton was not the only Founder that pondered this question. James Madison also wrote in Federalist Paper 51:
Madison also wrote:
Madison explains in greater detail why Article V was included in the Constitution:
The question that faces us all is whether fourteen trillion dollars in debt is enough of an "extraordinary occasion" as Madison puts it. The debt is piling up at a rate of $4.2 billion a day. By the end of this year we will be fifteen and a half trillion dollars in debt as a nation.
But what about a "run away Con Con" as the folks at the John Birch Society warn against? Article V is clear about that too. Any amendments that are offered out of an AVC must be ratified by three quarters of the states. This means that just 17 states are needed to veto any amendment offered by an AVC. The exact language is unmistakable:
The dependent clause states "part of this Constitution," not a new Constitution. The clarity here is profound. But there are more recent interpretations of the meaning of Article V.
In 1979 the U.S. Department of Justice, under Jimmy Carter, studied the question at the request of the Attorney General of the United States. This resulted in a memorandum opinion for the Attorney General, Number 79-75. Like most Washington Memos, this one is close to finding a cure for insomnia, however, if you read far enough into the document you will stumble across a gold nugget of truth:
The memo goes on to answer the question:
Plainly, the Justice Department agrees with the Founders that an AVC has limited scope and authority. But are there any other Amens to be heard from the inside-the-beltway congregation? Indeed there are.
In March of 1988, during the Regan Administration, the Heritage Foundation published Background Paper #637. That document, entitled "Amending the Constitution by the Convention Method," also concludes that an AVC has limited scope and authority:
The paper goes on to say:
Despite the weight of all this scholarly research there remains opposition to an AVC. Perhaps the words of George Washington address this blind opposition the best. In a letter written to his friend, John Armstrong, in April of 1788, Washington addresses the resistance to the amendment process:
Mac McDowell can be heard every Saturday morning from 9:00 to 11:00 Central time at 925thepatriot.com.