Choosing Senators: How to Rein in Federal Spending

The phenomenal growth of spending by the federal government itself is matched (in rate of increase, if not in actual dollar amounts) by the spending level in each of the states that have been overburdened by mandated expenditures through legislation from the House and Senate -- or by "bait and switch" tactics that would do Bernie Madoff proud, promising cost-sharing and then reneging on payment of the federal share.

How can we prevent this from continuing on into the next presidential term?  Or the next decade?  Or the next century?  Well, not to sound too simplistic, but the repeal of the 17th Amendment would be a great step in that direction.

For those who haven't memorized the Constitution and its amendments, the 17th Amendment is the one that changed the selection of senators from being appointed by the legislatures of the several states to electing them on the basis of statewide popular votes.  It was an amendment supported vigorously by Progressives during the era of Woodrow Wilson (it was ultimately ratified April 8, 1913), and it was sold to the public on the idea that it strengthened "democracy" in our government.

Yeah, sure it did, Wilbur.

By "sharing" the costs of ludicrous spending items, such as the much-touted high-speed rail fantasy, Congress can keep the share of the costs borne by the federal treasury below the so-called limits that they have placed on the budget.  First they lowball the total cost estimate, and then they define how much the federal government will contribute and stick the understated balance to the states.  Likewise, federal "mandates" which require huge outlays by the states to satisfy some fantasy making the rounds inside the Washington Beltway, make for yet another source of profligate spending.

If, knowing this, senators (who would once again be working for the legislatures of their respective states) allowed this game of smoke and mirrors to go forward, their tenure in the Senate would be greatly abbreviated when those legislatures caught on to the scam and found themselves saddled with the bill and an outraged voter base.

Although the Constitution itself states only that "[t]he Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote [emphasis added]," the following can be found in Federalist Paper #62 (Section II):

Among the various modes which might have been devised for constituting this branch of the government, that which has been proposed by the convention is probably the most congenial with the public opinion. It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.  [Emphasis added.]

Further, in Section III of Federalist #62, we find:

Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the Senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of the States.  [Emphasis added.]

From this, one could reasonably infer that in the federal system originally designed by the Founders, the president represents the interests of the federal government, the House of Representatives represents the ordinary citizens of the nation, and the Senate was designed to represent the interests of the individual states.  Even the fact that each state is entitled to only two Senators, regardless of the population of that state, indicates that "popular democracy" was not the aim of the Founders.

I will stipulate that the above is an inference only, but it seems to follow the words on our Constitution and the thoughts of the authors of the Federalist Papers. 

Once the one hundred senators are reminded that they work for their respective states, and that they remain in office only at the pleasure of their respective state legislatures, the flurry of mandates that come out of Washington seemingly without surcease and the "cost-sharing initiatives" that multiply more and more rapidly as election time approaches could be choked off. 

Since we currently have 30 states with Republican governors, and 27 states with Republican-controlled legislatures, it shouldn't be too difficult to convince an additional seven states to co-sign a request that Congress submit an amendment to the Constitution that would repeal the 17th Amendment.

Why the additional seven, you might ask?  Well, thirty-four is a magic number in constitutional law.  Thirty-four states represents two-thirds of all the states.  And that happens to be the number needed to call for a new constitutional convention to rewrite the rules that govern the government under Article V: 

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution[.]  [Emphasis added.]

Reference should be made in the joint request from the states that Congress proceed toward repealing the 17th Amendment to act as a sort of "or else" clause.  It's sort of saying to the House and Senate, "Look, folks, we'd like to be polite about this, but we have a really big stick we can use if we have to.  Got the picture?"

When Washington recovers from its fit of pique over the fact that those in the hinterlands of the nation are fed up being overwhelmed by an out-of-control central government, they should, out of a sense of survival and to maintain a minimal level of stability in the government, agree.

Once the senators know that their only chance at being re-appointed for another four years is to not saddle the states with mandates they can't afford, and "cost-sharing" plans that never seem to match the advertised costs, the Senate alone can block such schemes and reduce not only the costs that are passed on to the states, but the costs incurred by the federal government itself.

Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller for manufacturing firms, a Vietnam veteran, and an independent voter.  Jim blogs at, or he can be contacted directly at