Tag Archives: government spending

Constitutional Convention: A Dangerous and Unnecessary Game

English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stea...
English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stearns, Washington at Constitutional Convention of 1787, signing of U.S. Constitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Supporters of a national constitutional convention, as provided for in Article V of the US Constitution, have gained the support of 27 state legislatures for the idea. They need 34.

Republicans and Democrats are at war both with each other and within their own parties over the proposal. Some Republicans want such a convention for the purpose of getting a “balanced budget” amendment.

Some Democrats also want a convention for the purpose of overturning the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and regulating political campaign spending.

Some members of both parties fear that a convention might get out of hand, producing unforeseen  results. History says these Cassandras are correct.

In May of 1787, delegates from 12 of the 13 states met in Philadelphia to propose amendments to the young nation’s Articles of Confederation. With Rhode Island boycotting and the Articles requiring ratification by all 13 states to amend, the idea looked dead on arrival.

But the Philadelphia convention was, in essence, the first stage of a coup d’etat. Instead of proposing amendments for unanimous consent, the delegates rolled out plans to abandon the Articles for an entirely new system of government, peremptorily re-setting the bar for their new “Constitution.” It would, they announced, become effective upon ratification by only nine states.

For better or worse, they pulled it off.  The US Constitution has been “the supreme law of the land” since 1789.

A new constitutional convention is a bad idea for two reasons, both rooted in our history.

The first reason, as outlined above, is that regardless of the reasons for calling such a convention, it would likely end up recommending amendments above and beyond — or contrary to — those its promoters contemplate. It could even go rogue, as Philadelphia’s cabal did.

The second reason is that, just as the existing Constitution  is more honored in the breach than in the observance, any amendments moved by a new convention and ratified by the states would be similarly treated. New government powers created by the new amendments would be vigorously used. New limits on government power so created would simply be ignored.

We don’t need a balanced budget amendment. If Congress wanted to balance the budget, it would do so. If the Constitution requires it to do so and forbids it to borrow money, the politicians will find a way. There will likely be an exception for times of war, so they’ll just declare war and never undeclare it. Or they’ll just print money and give it to themselves to spend, inflating the money in our pockets as a hidden tax.

As far as money in politics is concerned, there’s no chance whatsoever of reining that in. Money always finds open wallets to worm its way into, constitutions and laws notwithstanding.

If the promoters of a constitutional convention place so much importance on the US Constitution, perhaps they should turn their attention to making America’s politicians obey it as it exists. That would be a good start toward meaningful change.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.



This One Weird Trick for Balancing the US Government’s Budget


Every year like clockwork, our masters in Washington cluck like hens over government spending. They lay new plans to reduce the annual budget deficit (currently hovering at around half a trillion dollars per year). They hatch new schemes to pay down their accrued debt (more than $18 trillion and increasing at a rate of more than $2 billion per day).

This year’s proposal from House Republicans would theoretically balance the budget … ten years from now. It would also theoretically reduce the debt from 74% of GDP to 18% … over the course of 25 years.

Many “moderate” Republicans and most Democrats criticize the plan as unworkable and, to use the expression favored by fraidycat clingers to the status quo, “unserious.” Why? Because they think ten years is unrealistically fast.

I agree. The plan is unworkable and “unserious.” But for the opposite reason. Ten years is far too long. Any plan relying on future politicians to stick to plans drawn up by today’s politicians is doomed to failure.

US Representatives are elected every two years, US Senators every six. While re-election rates are scandalously high, the faces do change over time. And the minds of long-term incumbents change as well. When the credit card doesn’t come with a limit, every crisis, real or manufactured, becomes an excuse to give up on fiscal discipline and treat themselves to a spending spree.

Fortunately, there’s a way out of this mess. It’s this one weird trick I learned in a high school math class. Wanna hear it? Here it is:

Congress should stop spending more money than it takes in.

Not ten years from now. Not five years from now. Not next year. NOW.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Will massive spending cuts sting? Yes, they will. Every household in America knows what it’s like to have to cut spending. We do it when we have to because we have to. Life isn’t fair.

How bad would it smart? Well, if Congress cut 2015 spending to the balance line, the federal government would still spend about half again as much this year as it spent in 2005. I’m sure you recall, as do I, that in 2005 America’s starving masses died in the ditches alongside its roads. Of course I’m just making that up. Remember? We couldn’t afford roads!

Where to cut? Well, if Congress reduced the budgeted cost of “defense” by 90%, the budget would balance and the US would still be the world’s first or second largest military spender (depending on which direction China’s military spending takes). But if the politicians want to split the cuts between various budget lines, fine.

Is it politically doable? Yes. The Republicans control Congress. If they don’t appropriate money for the executive branch to spend, the executive branch can’t spend that money. If the budget isn’t balanced, it’s because Republicans don’t want to balance it.

It’s time and past time for America’s politicians to start living within their ample means. Balance the budget. Now.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.