By Ken Quinn — This week I would like to share with you the mission of the Convention of States Project. The following information comes directly from the pages of our publication titled A Handbook for Legislators and Citizens. I highly recommend that you download it to learn more about our plan to call for an Article V convention for proposing amendments. You will also learn why an Article V Convention is safe, how it would operate, action steps for legislators and citizens, how the Constitution was adopted and the history of other founding-era conventions.
Washington, D.C., is Out of Control and Will Not Relinquish Power
We see four major abuses of the federal government.
• The Spending and Debt Crisis
• The Regulatory Crisis
• Congressional Attacks on State Sovereignty
• Federal Takeover of Decision Making
These abuses are not mere instances of bad policy. They are driving us towards an age of “soft tyranny” in which the government “softens, bends, and guides” men’s wills. If we do nothing to halt these abuses, we run the risk of becoming, as Alexis de Tocqueville warned in 1840, nothing more than “a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1840)
1. The Spending and Debt Crisis
The $17 trillion national debt is staggering, but it only tells a part of the story. If we apply the normal rulesof business accounting, the federal government owes at least $50 trillion more in vested Social Security benefits and other programs. This is why the government cannot tax its way out of debt. Even if they confiscated everything owned by private citizens and companies, it would not cover the debt.
2. The Regulatory Crisis
The federal bureaucracy has placed a regulatory burden upon businesses that is complex, conflicted, and crushing. Little accountability exists when executive agencies—rather than Congress—enact the real substance of the law. Research from the American Enterprise Institute, shows that since 1949 federal regulations have lowered the real GDP growth by 2% and made America 72% poorer.
3. Congressional Attacks on State Sovereignty
For years, Congress has been using federal grants to keep the states under its control. By attaching mandates to federal grants, Congress has turned state legislatures into their regional agencies rather than truly independent republican governments.
A radical social agenda and an erosion of the rights of the people accompany all of this. While substantial efforts have been made to combat the social engineering and protect peoples’ rights, we have missed one of the most important principles of the American founding. State legislatures need to be free to implement the will of the voters in their own states, not the will of Congress.
4. Federal Takeover of the Decision-Making Process
The Founders believed the structures of a limited government would provide the greatest protection of liberty. There were to be checks and balances at the federal level. And everything not specifically granted to Congress for legislative control was to be left to the states and the people.
Collusion among decision-makers in Washington, D.C., has overrun these checks and balances. The federal judiciary supports Congress and the White House in their ever-escalating attack upon the jurisdiction of the fifty states. This is more than an attack on the independence of the states. This robs the people of their most fundamental liberty—the right of self-governance.
We need to realize that the structure of decision-making matters. Who decides what the law shall be is even more important than what is decided. The protection of liberty requires a strict adherence to the principle that power is limited and delegated.
Washington, D.C., does not believe this principle, as evidenced by an unbroken practice of expanding the boundaries of federal power. In a remarkably frank admission, the Supreme Court rebuffed a constitutional challenge to the federal spending power by acknowledging their approval of programs that violate the will of the Founders:
This framework has been sufficiently flexible over the past two centuries to allow for enormous changes in the nature of government. The Federal Government undertakes activities today that would have been unimaginable to the Framers in two senses; first, because the Framers would not have conceived that any government would conduct such activities; and second, because the Framers would not have believed that the Federal Government, rather than the States, would assume such responsibilities. Yet the powers conferred upon the Federal Government by the Constitution were phrased in language broad enough to allow for the expansion of the Federal Government’s role.New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 157 (1992).
This is not a partisan issue. Washington, D.C., will never voluntarily relinquish meaningful power—no matter who is elected. The only rational conclusion is this: unless some political force outside of Washington, D.C., intervenes, the federal government will continue to bankrupt this nation, embezzle the legitimate authority of the states, and destroy the liberty of the people. Rather than securing the blessings of liberty for future generations, Washington, D.C., is on a path that will enslave our children and grandchildren to the debts of the past.
How Our Proposal Differs from Other Article V Plans
We believe our strategy gives us an almost-certain chance of success.
Two goals separate our plan from all other Article V efforts:
1. We want to call a convention for a particular subject rather than a particular amendment. Instead of calling a convention for a balanced budget amendment (though we are entirely supportive of such an amendment), we want to call a convention for the purpose of limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.
2. We believe the grassroots is the key to calling a successful convention. The goal is to build a political operation in a minimum of 40 states, getting 100 people to volunteer in at least 75% of the state legislative district (that’s 3,000 districts). We believe this is very realistic. Through the support of the American people this project will succeed.
Our Solution is Big Enough to Solve the Problem
Rather than calling a convention for a specific amendment, Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) has launched the Convention of States Project to urge state legislatures to properly use Article V to call a convention for a particular subject—reducing the power of Washington, D.C. It is important to note that a convention for an individual amendment (e.g. a Balanced Budget Amendment) would be limited to that single idea. Requiring a balanced budget is a great idea that CSG fully supports. Congress, however, could comply with a Balanced Budget Amendment by simply raising taxes. We need spending restraints as well. We need restraints on taxation. We need prohibitions against improper federal regulation. We need to stop unfunded mandates.
No current Article V proposal has been able to reach the 34 state applications needed to call a Convention of States. There is not enough momentum behind any one amendment. Ideally, the Convention of States Project allows all these Article V efforts to combine, giving them the collective force necessary to call a convention.
Once called, the delegates will be able to debate and impose a complete package of restraints on the misuse of power by all branches of the federal government. This is what our plan will do. It would allow ALL amendments germane to “reducing the power of the federal government” to be considered.
What Sort of Amendments Could be Passed?
The following are examples of amendment topics that could be proposed at a convention of states:
• A balanced budget amendment
• Reducing federal spending power (fixing the General Welfare Clause)
• Reducing federal regulatory power (fixing the Commerce Clause)
• A prohibition of using international treaties and law to govern the domestic law of the United States
• A limitation on using Executive Orders and federal regulations to enact laws (since the Congress is supposed to be the exclusive agency to enact laws)
• Imposing real checks and balances on the Supreme Court (such as term limits)
• Placing a limit on federal taxation
Of course, these are merely examples of what could be up for discussion. So long as a proposed amendment relates to limiting the power of the federal government, the Convention of States itself would determine which ideas deserve serious consideration, and it will take a majority of votes from the states to formally propose any amendments.
American citizens have become so frustrated with runaway federal power that they have begun discussing ideas like nullification and even secession. Such ideas are not only impractical; they could ultimately lead to a violent conflict. We need not turn to such dangerous alternatives. The Founders gave us a legitimate path to save our liberty by using our state governments to impose binding restraints on the federal government. We must use the power granted to the states in the Constitution.
Ken Quinn is Coalitions Director for the Convention of States Project in Maine. This column is part of a series exploring the Article V Convention of States. To read more of Quinn’s columns, click here.