I have been very slow in coming onto the idea of an Article V convention. However, as time has gone by, I’ve swung from vehemently opposed to moderately enthusiastic.
For me, as a conservative, small government Constitutionalist, is probably the final hope of the People and the States to take back the country without the horror of a Second Amendment solution. I know that many are afraid of Progressives running amok, but the reality is that there is very little danger of that happening. Indeed, if one looks at the makeup of the individual States, progressive States will have very little power to subvert a Convention. Indeed, if such a Convention is called with a narrow, well defined scope there really isn’t any danger at all. At least that is my belief.
First, though, let us look at the scope that is defined in the proposal suggested. Mr. Meckler, in the linked article, identifies three amendment proposals: term limits, balanced budget and a single subject for laws (what I’ll call the “specificity amendment”). I’d support the last two, but am not in favor of the first.
At one time, I did support term limits for Congress. As I have looked deeper into the issue, however, I have come to realize that term limits only treats one symptom. It does not address the underlying cause of the real problem. If you will bear with me, I will get back to this in a bit.
A balanced budget amendment has been a long sought for victory by budget hawks. Opponents claim that we can’t eliminate the ability to borrow and some note that the government wouldn’t pay attention to it regardless. I would agree that we probably should not eliminate the ability to borrow, but we can – and should – severely restrict it. We should not be borrowing simply for day-to-day operations. It should be reserved for crises that present a clear and present danger to the Union.
The final proposed amendment, a specificity amendment, is a brilliant idea in my opinion. One of the ongoing problems with the legislature has been the dishonest – yes, dishonest – habit of taking in amendments to a bill that have nothing to do with the subject of the legislation. This amendment process is also how earmarks and pork are typically hidden in the process. More rarely, this is also how poison pills get put into a bill to kill what on the surface may appear to be a good law. While a specificity amendment cannot eliminate all abuses, by forcing topicality it will certainly severely curtail the practice.
Ok, getting back to the term limit issue… Rather than enshrining a bandage into the Constitution, I’d suggest fixing the root cause. In fact, my suggestion would fix many of the problems in the federal government.
Repeal the 17th Amendment!
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
Not necessarily the whole thing, but the first portion has to go. That is the part that takes the responsibility for the election of Senators away from the state legislatures and makes it a popular election. Or to put it another way, it is the part that disenfranchised the States. In the context of the Meckler op-ed, repeal of this part of the amendment would restore a long lost level of accountability of the Senators to their States. With accountability, the need for Senate limits it mitigated. In the House, with the two year terms, we have seen in the 2014 elections that incumbency is much less a guarantee of re-election than many Congressmen had assumed. When combined with the balanced budget and specificity amendments, a repeal of the 17th Amendment will remove the need for term limits. There are a who list of troubles that repealing the the 17th Amendment will fix. Those will be addressed in a future article.
These changes are simple. I suspect they would be popular with most of America, given honest discussion. However, the only way they will ever occur is through an Article V convention. The changes here will break the backs of the establishment leaders in both parties and the federal bureaucracy. It would hamstring special interests and lobbyists. In other words, the changes would undermine the people to whom our elected officials really owe their loyalty. An Article V convention takes the federal government out of the process. It is the safety valve that the Founders built into the Constitution for just this occasion.
As far as the risks? I’ve already addressed the issue of the D.C. establishment being cut out. Next, the one thing you can count on is that the changes will reflect conservative values. We have an overwhelming majority in the state legislatures. Progressives will not be able to run roughshod over the texts of the amendments; especially if the scope is narrowly defined. Finally, the results of any convention would still have to be ratified by the States. Again, conservative States overwhelmingly outnumber progressive ones. Not only would we be able to prevent ratification of radical progressivism in the wild chance that it made it into an amendment, passage of the desired reforms/clarifications are almost certain. This argument also applies to the risk of the the convention rewriting the principles of the Founders or going outside the scope of their commission. Either would guarantee a failure in ratification.
Conservatives, States and the American people really do have the power to accomplish this. At the present, there is nothing that the federal government or Progressives can do to stop it other than keeping people in ignorance. However, that can change. I believe the progressive movement is very much aware of this danger. By dumbing down our children in school and spreading government dependency as widely as possible they are reducing the chance of a successful convention ever occurring. In that sense, we are engaged in a race. A race that we must win for the future of liberty and our children.