Convention Offers Path to Reform

Published November 30, 2016

Control of the White House is shifting from the hands of President Barack Obama to celebrity television personality Donald Trump, potentially bringing huge reforms to the way the federal government does business.

However, some things never change, including federal lawmakers’ grandiose plans to spend outside taxpayers’ ability to afford.

In October 2015, Trump promised voters that he was “gonna bring [the national deficit] down big league and quickly,” but in August, he announced a plan to increase government spending on roads by about $1 trillion. In his Nov. 9 victory speech, he repeated his plan to make deficit spending great again.

Despite decades of rhetoric from lawmakers, Congress remains unable or unwilling to control its irresponsible spending.

The difference between government revenue and government spending has continued to increase, regardless of which political party has held control of Congress and the White House.

In 1980, the federal government’s spending exceeded revenues by $73.8 billion, equivalent to a bill for $325 sent to every American alive then. In 2016, spending exceeded revenue by $587 billion, or about $1,811 per person.

In addition, a federal law, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, is supposed to prevent Washington from shifting the burden of paying for regulations to cities and states, but lawmakers have ignored this restriction and have passed hundreds of new laws without regard for how states will pay for their implementation.

The federal government’s regulatory burden on the rest of the country has become heavier, too.

Between 2009 and 2015, the federal government enacted more than 20,600 new regulations, costing Americans more than $100 billion for compliance. The cost of complying with Washington’s dictates increased by about $312 per man, woman and child in the country.

As the power of federal lawmakers and lobbyists increases, state legislators’ roles have become even more important.

With federal officials neglecting their duty to taxpayers and voters, state elected officials have the responsibility and the power to take charge and lead the country toward effective, sensible policies through the amendment process spelled out in Article V of the Constitution.

There are two primary ways for updating the supreme law of the land.

The first method is the more well-known means of patching the Constitution’s code: a two-thirds majority of each congressional chamber votes to approve a joint resolution and then 38 state legislatures vote to ratify the resolution. Unfortunately, that’s an unlikely scenario when Congress has been consistently complicit in the growth of government. It appears to have no desire to reduce its power.

The second method proceeds from the states to the national government, exerting “people power” rising from the governed to the government. Under this process, 38 state legislatures call for an amendments convention, which Congress is then required to call. States then send representative delegates to the convention, and those state representatives decide whether to ratify the resolution.

Congressional leaders have flirted with balanced budget amendments since 1936, but lawmakers have made few real attempts at passing this important reform. Such an amendment would be unlikely to come from federal lawmakers, because a balanced budget amendment would restrict their power.

Calling for a national balanced budget amendment enables state lawmakers to fulfill their role as scientists in the laboratories of democracy, discovering and executing new and effective solutions to the problems of today.

Virginia lawmakers should work to unravel the current system of soaring federal government spending and widening gaps between government spending and revenue, by joining the accelerating amendment convention movement.

[Originally Published at the Virginian Pilot]