Friday, June 27, 2014

Why a New Constitutional Convention

The federal government has been expanding for decades. More laws, more spending, more regulations. More executive actions and judicial decisions that enlarge the role of government. Everybody knows this, but nothing is done about it. Why? Because the corrections cannot be made under the system that now exists. If they could, they'd have been made before now instead of successively adding to the problems. The system has been corrupted to facilitate growing the problems rather than solving them. Sending new faces to Washington will not correct the problems; the system itself must be corrected.

Take the problem of balancing the budget. In 1978 Congress enacted a law sponsored by Sen. Harry F. Byrd that stated: “Beginning with fiscal year 1981, the total budget outlays of the Federal Government shall not exceed it receipts.” What happened? Nothing

Then there was the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, officially titled the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985. It was supposed to balance the budget gradually over six years through a series of spending cuts. Six years later the deficit was larger than before.

Now there are several members of Congress talking about another balanced budget act. That is a waste of time. It would be no more effective than the two I have just mentioned. Congress isn't bound by laws of previous Congresses. It can change them whenever it wants. It doesn't even need to go through the formality of changing a law or repealing it. All it needs to do is pass a bill that doesn't obey the law—and that then becomes the law. So legislators can get credit for passing a budget-limiting bill when that is politically popular, and then quietly ignore it when spending benefits their reelections. This is why a balanced-budget amendment must be produced by a new constitutional convention called for by the states, as specified in Article V of the Constitution.

Another example is earmarks, by which federal politicians obtain political benefits by specifying local pet projects in appropriation bills. After public outrage over wasteful budget items like the infamous “bridge to nowhere,” Congress agreed to ban earmarks in 2011. Now, however, there is a movement afoot to bring them back. That is why earmarks must be eliminated by a constitutional amendment. Senator Tom Coborn, who is opposed to earmarks, says the pro-earmarks movement includes lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Another much-needed amendment would require the dollar to be backed by gold. Obviously Congress would never pass such an amendment because it would drastically reduce government spending. So this, too, would have to be an amendment produced by a new constitutional convention.

The above amendments, along with several others, are discussed in my book The Impending Monetary Revolution, the Dollar and Gold. I'm not going to recite all the others here, but I do want to mention one more. We need a constitutional amendment reaffirming that the federal government has no power for any purpose not specified in its enumerated powers in the Constitution. For instance, there is no mention of agriculture anywhere in the powers granted to the federal government; therefore, according to the Tenth Amendment, any such power was reserved to the states or the people. The fact that this plain language has not been honored by Congress, the Supreme Court or the executive branch makes it necessary to correct this situation with another constitutional amendment as I have described.

Jefferson observed that government always has a tendency to expand. Here's how the unconstitutional assigning of federal authority to agriculture led to its expansion far beyond agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has about 93,000 employees in the U.S. (not counting USDA employees in foreign countries), but only about 25 percent of them are engaged in farm programs. The rest are involved in such far-ranging activities as electric power production, telecommunications businesses, commercial loans, rent subsidies for housing projects, forestry management, economic research, and subsidized food and nutrition programs, such as school lunches and food stamps. The food stamp program cost $550 million in 1979, $56 billion in 2009, and $80 billion in 2014.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court precedent for empowering government to intervene in agriculture was not limited to the USDA. Other federal agencies enjoyed the extension of the same power. According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government in 2009 had six different agencies operating “about” 26 separate food and nutrition programs in the U.S. As of October 20, 2011, the USDA even had more than 90 foreign offices covering 154 countries.

Is Congress or the USDA going to cut back the federal role in so-called “agriculture”? Of course not. The agency's role has grown with every possible excuse that could even remotely be somehow connected to the word “agriculture.” The same thing has been happening in other fields outside the enumerated powers delegated to the federal government by the Constitution. William A. Niskanen, a former assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget and member of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, has noted “most of [federal spending] was for programs for which there is no explicit constitutional authority.”* (Italics added.)

Thus we need another constitutional convention. Article V of the Constitution provides that Congress “on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments,” which shall then require ratification by three-fourths of the states.

* William A Niskanen, Reflections of a Political Economist (Washington DC: Cato Institute, 2008) p. 179.