How Do We Check Runaway National Power?

Americans are frustrated.  Government spending has gone ballistic, unaccountable bureaucrats intrude on every aspect of the economy, and more and more of our personal lives are being dictated from Washington D.C.  The citizenry keep voicing their objections, but nobody cares to listen. People have gone beyond frustration; they want to halt this runaway system and stop the nationalization of their neighborhoods and personal lives.

Initiatives have arisen from every corner of the country to reign in a power-crazed government.  State lawsuits have proliferated against ObamaCare and EPA regulations.  States have passed laws reasserting the 10th Amendment, limiting ObamaCare, and pushing back against the growing tide of illegal immigration.  Some recommend a constitutional amendment to give states veto power over federal law.  Others propose repealing the 17th Amendment, so state legislatures will once again elect U.S. Senators.  And most want a balanced budget amendment.

What's going on here?  Throughout our great nation, displeasure and discontent is building.  And there has been no abatement since the election.  The populace remains distrustful because they see the three federal branches abrogating their constitutional responsibilities.  With no alternative inside the beltway, they are looking to the states to curb the national government's voracious appetite.

This is not unreasonable.  The delegates to the Constitutional Convention intended the states to be a potent check on the national government.  They included four provisions for this purpose:

  1. Enumerated powers, later reconfirmed by the First Congress with the 10th Amendment
  2. Senators elected by state legislatures
  3. Limited national taxing authority
  4. An Electoral College

Few in Washington consider the enumerated powers a constraint; Senators are now popularly elected; the 16th Amendment allows Congress to collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, and the Electoral College is under attack.  Without a structural reversal, the states will continue to be weakened as a check on a growing national government.

Is it really this bad?  It is.  The national debt is $14 trillion, and increasing by $4.2 billion per day. That means every man, woman and child owes more than $45,000.  Worse, every taxpayer owes nearly $130,000. Did we need massive government spending to stimulate the economy?  History says no.  Surpluses were run in 1947-49 and spending was restrained throughout the 1950s.  Back then, most prognosticators claimed we would collapse back into a depression if we ratcheted back spending that fast after WWII.  Instead, the following two decades had phenomenal growth and employment.  More recently, in the 1990s government surpluses drove a robust economy.

We need to stop this pell-mell charge toward insolvency.  That means we need to maintain counter-assaults on all fronts, but there is one overriding issue that must be addressed.  The federal government has superior taxing authority and unlimited borrowing power.  All of the states except Vermont are constitutionally required to balance their budgets and their tax revenue is being crowded out by a grasping federal government.  During the heyday of stimulus spending, states actually received more revenue from Washington than from direct taxation.  The result is that states are on the dole, and it's hard to challenge federal authority when you're begging for lifeblood.

We must restore balance between the taxing authorities, and the only way to achieve that goal is with a balanced budget amendment (BBA) to the United States Constitution.  As long as the federal government is allowed to print and borrow money at will, the states are at a severe disadvantage.  A balanced budget amendment will help restore our federal system by putting the national government under the same restrictions as the states.

We cannot, however, focus on a balanced budget amendment as the sole solution.  The situation is too dire to delay action until an amendment can be ratified.  We must aggressively push forward simultaneously on all the other initiatives.  In addition, it is crucial that Congress honors its campaign promises to repeal ObamaCare, freeze federal hiring and pay; require spending cuts in excess of any new spending; eliminate non-essential government program(s)/agencies, and return total expenditures to 2008 levels.

Our forefathers bequeathed to us a healthy republic making the American Dream attainable. Without fundamental change, we will leave to our progeny a nightmare of debt and foreign ownership of our productive assets.  We owe our children more, and we also owe our parents because they protected our liberty and our lives.  Now that we're responsible, we can do nothing less.

Jon Bruning is Attorney General for Nebraska, and as President of the National Association of Attorneys General, led the multi-state lawsuit against Obamacare.  He is now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Bruning is co-authoring the forthcoming book, The Founders Were Right.