It's time to reboot the political system
See reader feedback at the end.
For all SAFE’s efforts to promote smaller, more focused, less costly government, the tide has been moving relentlessly in the other direction. In a study several years ago, we attributed this trend to growing dysfunction of the US political system. Government run amok disease, Nov.-Dec. 2009.
Subsequent events have confirmed that this country has a governance problem. We’ll provide some recent evidence to support this conclusion, and then review a possible solution.
A. Leviathan government – For decades, the government – which does not create wealth, but only spends or redistributes it – has been growing faster than the private sector. Such a trend cannot be justified based on the efficacy or efficiency of government programs, nor can it continue without tanking the economy and curtailing personal liberties that Americans hold dear. Some examples follow.
#Despite plenty of lip service to fiscal responsibility, there is precious little evidence of serious efforts to cut wasteful spending and stop the relentless growth in federal debt. How Republicans lost control of the spending fight in Congress, Rob Bluey, dailysignal.com, 5/1/16.
. . . House Republicans have yet to approve a budget (missing the April 15 deadline) *** earlier promises have given way to the prospect of 2016 being a repeat of the status quo that Americans are rejecting in record numbers this election year. And to make matters worse for conservatives, Republicans are proposing to spend more money and avoiding substantive policy fights.
#The aggressive issuance of new regulations coupled with the failure to prune regulations already on the books is imposing a heavy burden on business activity, no wonder the recovery from the “great recession” has been so anemic. Killing the regulatory parasite, Richard Rahn, Washington Times, 5/23/16.
“Over the last 58 years government spending to write and enforce regulation has increased by more than 20-fold (after adjusting for inflation), and the number of bureaucrats has increased by a factor of five,” according to a study released on May 21 by Susan Dudley, director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Department, and Melinda Warren, director of the Weidenbaum Center Forum at Washington University in St. Louis. There are now over a “quarter million full-time regulators” grinding out some 80,000 pages of regulations per year.
#A horde of special interests (many with offices on K Street) support government programs of benefit to themselves. And their efforts are reinforced by a growing cadre of well-compensated government employees, which has become a built-in support group for ever larger, more powerful government. Government gone wild! video (3:40), 2016.
Government is its own special interest, and will say or do almost anything to protect itself.
While we would like to believe that the majority of government employees are honest and well intentioned, the GGW video carries some weight. There have been many instances of government inefficiency or worse, which seem to persist even after corrective action is promised.
#Two years after the president appointed a new secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to address long wait times for medical treatment, the situation has apparently not improved. Fire Robert McDonald, Washington Examiner, 5/24/16.
Instead of mending the agency, McDonald has adopted the cavalier disregard of veterans that he was hired to end. He has become the lead excuse-maker for an uncaring and self-serving bureaucracy. On Monday, at a breakfast discussion hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, McDonald tried to downplay the significance of wait-times. Disney doesn't measure success based on how long you wait in line at their theme parks, he argued, and so likewise the VA should not be judged based on how long veterans have to wait for doctors appointments.
#Despite promises to end IRS harassment of conservative advocacy groups, no employees have been punished, and the abusive practices (shades of the “enemies list” during the Nixon era) have apparently continued. The IRS’s ugly business as usual, Kimberly Strassel, Wall Street Journal, 5/19/16.
[IRS] targeting of conservative nonprofits ranks as one of the worst federal scandals in modern history. It is topped only by the outrage that no one has been held to account. Or perhaps by the news that the targeting continues to this day. That [last] detail became clear in an extraordinary recent court hearing, in front of a panel of judges for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Frustration about this matter, compounded by stonewalling of congressional requests for information, has escalated to the point that impeachment proceedings may be initiated against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. House GOP gears ups for final battle with Obama IRS, Sarah Westwood, Washington Examiner, 5/19/16.
While he did not preside over the IRS during the time Tea Party-linked groups were targeted, Koskinen drew congressional ire by providing false testimony and allowing staffers to destroy documents in the wake of the scandal. For example, eight months after the Oversight Committee served Koskinen a subpoena for records related to the controversy, agency officials magnetically erased 422 backup tapes that contained many of the documents Congress had requested.
#In the lawsuit to block the administration’s executive amnesty decrees, which at this point has been stayed (an appeal of the stay is pending in the US Supreme Court), government lawyers were caught misrepresenting that implementation of the decrees hadn’t been started. Judge orders ethics classes for “deceptive” DOJ attorneys, Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, 5/19/16.
The facts of the deception are not in doubt, [Judge] Hanen emphasized. "[DOJ] has now admitted making statements that clearly did not match the facts," he said in the May 19 opinion, first noted by the National Law Journal. "It has admitted that the lawyers who made these statements had knowledge of the truth when they made these misstatements ... This court would be remiss if it left such unseemly and unprofessional conduct unaddressed."
#Recently there have been long lines in airports, with thousands of travelers missing their flights, apparently due to ineptitude of the Transportation Security Administration although there have also been complaints about budget cuts. The TSA’s head of security is OUT, yahoo.com, 5/27/16.
Over-optimistic estimates for the number of Pre-Check signups are one reason for the huge lines. The TSA has also blamed budget cuts, and the agency tightened up security after failing a slew of tests.
B. Politics as usual – OK, enough said. Like any big organization, the government is far from perfect. But elections are coming up in November, so why can’t the foregoing problems be resolved by voting for the leaders with the best plan for fixing them? Isn’t that how our representative democracy is supposed to work?
This assumes the candidates will provide meaningful details of the policies they would follow if elected, and that the voters are paying attention and weighing the information provided. It’s not clear that these conditions are likely to be satisfied. This presidential race resembles reality TV, 5/9/16.
This also assumes that the next president will be inclined to invest political capital in changing the current course versus following the path of least resistance. Nothing that either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders has said during the campaign suggests such an inclination, and Donald Trump’s views on policy matters are often hard to decipher.
Even on the off chance that Trump won the presidency and was inclined to embrace a smaller government agenda, the status quo might still be preserved if Democrats (who have substantially fewer seats to defend than Republicans on this go round) regained control of the Senate and were therefore able to call the tune on Supreme Court justices as well as continuing to block conservative legislation.
In sum, it seems relatively unlikely that the elections will derail the big government express, which was set in motion long before the current administration. Prudence dictates, therefore, that conservatives have a Plan B strategy in mind.
C. An Article V convention – If the current government structure favors continuing growth of government, and such growth is likely to have bad consequences, why not amend the Constitution? The founders anticipated that their handiwork might need to be adjusted from time to time, and Article V provide that amendments may be proposed by the two houses of Congress or alternatively by a convention of the states.
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, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that . . . no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
All constitutional amendment to date (as distinguished from the original document) have been proposed by Congress, but the members of Congress might not be inclined to support amendments that would limit their own power, e.g., by establishing term limits or requiring balanced budgets. Accordingly, an Article V convention (or at least the threat of such a convention, which might prompt a reluctant Congress to act) would seem like the way to go. Here’s a flow chart of the Article V procedure:
There has been growing interest among conservatives in having an Article V convention, and the possibility has been discussed several times in this blog.
Although there could be no guarantee of a successful outcome, we concluded in 2009, the developing weaknesses of the US system of government (as detailed in previous installments of the “Government run amok disease” study) were serious and an Article V convention might help to address them. RX, part two – a constitutional convention, 12/7/09.
Sometimes it is necessary to take chances in life, e.g., to break a completed side of a Rubik’s Cube in order to solve the overall puzzle.
Reader feedback on this entry was along the lines that an Article V convention would probably do more harm than good, e.g., liberals might be able to hijack it to further their own goals.
•I'm not in favor of having a Constitutional Convention. My biggest concern is that it would afford the opportunity for mischief to those who wish to turn the Constitution into a wish list. The "Writers" provided a wherewithal for amending the Constitution that has served us well these many years. – Alex F. Wysocki, Conservative Caucus of Delaware
•I fully support the idea of Congressional term limits, but can see no hope for making it happen unless the members voluntarily limit themselves or the voters limit them. A Cons. Conv. with the present Congressional make-up could be a real disaster! SAFE director
•Given who holds the reins of the power structure at the moment, we could be in a lot of trouble calling a Constitutional convention. It could be re-written in a manner that we would not like. SAFE director
•Let the revolution begin, again...no more taxation, without representation...throw the bums out. SAFE member, Arizona
We revisited this subject two years ago, focusing principally on a slate of constitutional amendments that had been proposed in a book by Mark Levin. While agreeing with the general thrust of the proposed amendments, it seemed that there were too many of them and several should be reconsidered. The Liberty Amendments, 3/31/14.
Support for an Article V convention is growing, and a grassroots movement has been organized to push for one. The website for this project provides a coherent explanation of what’s envisioned, including answers to the following questions:
• Why Do We Want to Call a Convention of States?
•What is a Convention of States?
•How Do the State Legislatures Call a Convention of States?
•Article V says Congress “calls” the convention. Does this mean they control the Convention and choose the delegates?
•How Do States Choose Their Delegates?
•What Happens at a Convention of States?
•How are Proposed Amendments Ratified?
•If the Federal Government Ignores the Current Constitution, Why Would They Adhere to an Amended Constitution?
•Who is Citizens for Self-Governance and How Do They Relate to the COS Project?
Resolutions for the purpose of proposing amendments “that impose fiscal restraints of the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress” have been introduced in state legislatures across the country.
It was recently reported that six states (Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee & Indiana) have adopted such a resolution, and the total may be higher now. Indiana becomes 6th state to call for Article V convention of states, Barbara Hollingsworth, cnsnews.com, 3/2/16.
Grassroots organizer Mark Meckler, attorney Michael Farris, and strategist/donor Eric O’Keefe are the key players in the convention of states movement. Here is a link to their respective bios.
As usual, conservatives are more united in diagnosing the problem than proposing solutions. Some skeptics fervently contend that (1) an Article V convention couldn’t possibly work, and/or (2) there are better alternatives. We’ll review their objections and offer our conclusions next week.
An Article V convention will never happen. – SAFE director
I don’t see the elections SOLVING our greatest problems, although the noise level may go down afterwards. A convention of states is a necessary step. If that fails perhaps another revolution is necessary. – SAFE member (DE)
From an e-mail to several contacts: You have likely seen the proposed 28th Amendment, which would set term limits, require the budget to be balanced, require the members of Congress to live under the same laws as everyone else, etc. It’s hard to imagine Congress proposing such an amendment by a 2/3 vote in both chambers, but there is an organized movement to have a convention of states that could propose amendments without Congress being involved. See the Convention of States website, and also the latest SAFE blog entry. I encourage you to contact your elected state legislators and ask them to support this project. It's the only hope to solve some of these problems and to preserve our republic. – SAFE director
We might do well to recall Thomas Jefferson’s comment about “the tree of liberty” in a 1787 letter from France (where he was posted as the US ambassador while the Constitution was being drafted). Source: Jefferson Encyclopedia. “We have had 13 states independent 11 years. There has been one rebellion [an insurrection in Massachusetts]. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – SAFE member (DE)
The presidential race is shaping up as a choice of the lesser of two evils. A convention of the states may be our only hope, but how can we expect Congress to be influenced by new amendments when they pay no attention to the Constitution we already have? – SAFE member (Texas)