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Article V convention not a solution for Washington spending woes

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Governor Ducey paints an enticingly rosy picture of our nation graced by an Article V constitutional convention (Article V resolution gives Arizona a seat at the table, March 14). Truly all our problems will be solved if only Congress calls a convention of the states to, among other things, pass a “balanced budget amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.

What the governor neither allows nor admits is the likelihood of economic chaos and material suffering such a move will cause – for Arizonans and for Americans from coast to coast.

meyers-jon-mug

Jon Meyers

There is good reason – indeed, many good reasons – why this method of amending the Constitution has never been employed since our foundational document was adopted nearly 230 years ago. And there are equally numerous reasons why thousands of leading scholars, economists, leaders in business and government, and legal experts of all political persuasions – including the late Supreme Court Justices Antoni Scalia and Warren Burger and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe – have expressed their deepest, unequivocal opposition to the idea.

Contrary to the governor’s assertion that an Article V convention will “limit the scope and jurisdiction of the federal government and finally impose fiscal restraints on the tax-and-spenders in Washington,” such a process could well unleash the very worst instincts of those who would reverse our nation’s progress and quite possibly have exactly the opposite effect he envisions.

Want greater controls on government? With an Article V convention you’re rolling the dice. You might get more controls on government – or you might get more government controls on you.

While Governor Ducey speaks with pride of signing the Arizona Civics Bill, he surely knows that most Arizonans haven’t the faintest idea what it means to call an Article V convention. And he counts on that lack of knowledge when speaking in broad generalities about the wonders of such a process.

The Balanced Budget Amendment central to current arguments for an Article V convention and so often proposed as the key to getting our nation’s fiscal house in order is, in fact, nothing of the sort. Rather than a panacea for eliminating our budget deficit, this meat cleaver approach will simply result in misery for tens of millions of Americans, and not just our most vulnerable citizens – those with disabilities, children, the elderly, and those seeking to rise out of poverty – for whom federally funded programs are a lifeline and, literally, a life preserver.

By requiring a balanced budget every year, no matter the state of the economy, a Balanced Budget Amendment will lead to more severe and frequent recessions, hurting a broad swath of workers and families. It will put Social Security and other retiree assistance programs at risk. It will jeopardize the readiness of our military. And it will severely restrict federal support for states – a particularly frightening scenario for Arizona, which is among the largest beneficiaries of federal dollars.

Governor Ducey and his compatriots are overly fond of the analogy of households having to live within their means – in the governor’s words, “You can’t spend more than you make” – therefore neither should the federal government. Superficially, it sounds like common sense: the federal government may not spend more than it brings in during any given year. Look only a little deeper, though, and it becomes clear this simply isn’t reality, nor is it realistic.

Indeed, this false analogy ignores the basic fact that the majority of U.S. households and many corporations actually do not have balanced budgets: they avail themselves of credit – they borrow – in order to make sound investments in their future, such as home mortgages, college loans, and business loans.  So, too, must the federal government be able to make long term investments in the form of usable roads; safe airports, rail systems and seaports; research that advances knowledge and prevents or cures disease; availability of basic medical care; retirement and other support systems…and the list goes on.

Without credit, without the ability to borrow money for essential purchases, our economy suffers and our standard of living diminishes, whether that borrowing is done by private individuals, corporations, or governments.

Within reason and when utilized responsibly, debt is a valuable economic tool both for the private and public sectors. Can it be abused? Without question – by private citizens and governments. And is it clear to virtually everyone that a $20 trillion federal debt is unsustainable? Absolutely.

All parties have an interest in working to reduce the deficit as speedily as possible, but doing so responsibly rather than recklessly. An Article V convention and a Balanced Budget Amendment are not the solutions to whatever list of grievances state politicians hold against the nation’s leadership in Washington, D.C.

Fortunately, there are other options. In the past 10 years, we have seen a number of comprehensive and informed efforts to tackle our nation’s long-term fiscal health. These include the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (known alternatively as “Simpson-Bowles” for its co-chairs), the Rivlin-Domenici Deficit Reduction Plan, and the “Gang of Six” U.S. Senators. While each offered specific choices that raised opposition from different constituencies, they would allow us the use of a scalpel, rather than an ax, when operating on the federal budget.

The Arc of Arizona, which for nearly 65 years has advocated for the civil rights and community inclusion of Arizonans with intellectual and developmental disabilities, stood shoulder-to-shoulder last week with representatives from such diverse organizations as the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, League of Women Voters of Arizona, Arizona Advocacy Network, and The John Birch Society to call upon our state legislators to abandon this misguided Article V effort and to focus instead on truly practicable solutions to our state’s, and our nation’s, economic challenges.

We renew that call here. Getting Arizona “a seat at the table” means nothing if, in doing so, Arizonans and millions of other Americans are left starving.

Jon Meyers is executive director of The Arc of Arizona.

___________________________________________________________

The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

4 comments

  1. We MUST oppose a Con-Con. We may well lose our Constitution if a Con-Con were called. Thank you to the John Birch Society, the Eagle Forum, Publis Hudlah and the other great conservatives and constitutionalists working to stop this. The Constitution is NOT the problem!!! The Constitution ALREADY LIMITS government. We just need to enforce it. Arizona legislators, if you want to limit the feds, stop taking their money and stop helping enforce their unconstitutional laws!!!

  2. I am deeply disturbed that people are either not doing proper research, or are trying to mislead readers. Therefor, I will let the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, tell you in his own words what he thought of an Article V Convention of the States:

    Excerpts from American Enterprise Institute’s Panel Discussion on Article V with Panelist Antonin Scalia
    May 23, 1979
    p. 5
    MR. DALY: All right. Professor Scalia, Richard Rovere in the New Yorker, suggested that the convention method of amendment might reinstate segregation and even slavery, throw out much or all of the Bill of Rights, eliminate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, reverse any Supreme Court decision the members didn’t like, and perhaps for good measure, eliminate the Supreme Court, itself. [Laughter.] Now, what would you anticipate from an unlimited convention?

    ANTONIN SCALIA, professor of law, University of Chicago: I suppose it might even pass a bill of attainder to hang Richard Rovere. [Laughter.] All those things are possible, I suppose, just as it is possible that the Congress tomorrow might pass a law abolishing social security as of the next day, or eliminating Christmas. Such things are possible, remotely possible. I have no fear that such extreme proposals would come out of a constitutional convention. Surely, whether that risk is sufficient to cause anyone to be opposed to a constitutional convention depends on how high we think the risk is and how necessary we think the convention is. If we thought the Congress were not necessary for any other purpose, the risk that it might abolish social security would probably be enough to tell its members to go home. So, it really comes down to whether we think a constitutional convention is necessary. I think it is necessary for some purposes, and I am willing to accept what seems to me a minimal risk of intemperate action. The founders inserted this alternative method of obtaining constitutional amendments because they knew the Congress would be unwilling to give attention to many issues the people are concerned with, particularly those involving restrictions on the federal government’s own power. The founders foresaw that and they provided the convention as a remedy. If the only way to get that convention is to take this minimal risk, then it is a reasonable one.
    ***
    pp. 21-22
    PROFESSOR SCALIA: I have not proposed an open convention. Nobody in his right mind would propose it in preference to a convention limited to those provisions he wants changed . Regardless of the issue-say, a constitutional amendment on abortion-its supporters would want a convention that considers that issue and nothing else; or one that considers only the particular features of the Constitution that they do not like, but precludes consideration of those features they do like. I think there is nobody, except maybe one or two anarchists, who would sincerely want an open convention for its own sake, to expose the whole system to possible change. There comes a point, however, at which one has to be willing to run the risk of an open convention to get the changes that are wanted. Essentially what I have said is that there is some risk of an open convention, even with respect to the limited proposal of financial responsibility at the federal level. I think that risk is worth taking. It is not much of a risk. Three-quarters of the states would have to ratify whatever came out of the convention; therefore, I don’t worry about it too much. I would also be willing to run that risk for issues primarily involving the structure of the federal government and a few other so-called single issues. I would favor a convention on abortion, which some consider a single issue. I suppose slavery could have been called a single issue, too. It all depends on how deeply one feels about the issue. In any case, I do not have any great fear of an open convention, since three-quarters of the states do have to ratify what comes out of it. The clucking that Richard Rovere and others do about it is simply an intentional attempt to create panic and to make the whole idea sound unthinkable. It is not unthinkable at all; it is entirely thinkable.
    ***
    p. 36
    PROFESSOR SCALIA: I listed first among the things that I would like to have considered the structural issues at the federal level. I do not have a lack of trust in the American people. I am the one here who is least terrified of a convention. We have come a long way. We have gotten over many problems. But the fact remains that a widespread and deep feeling of powerlessness in the country is apparent with respect to many issues, not just the budget issue. The people do not feel that their wishes are observed. They are heard but they are not heeded, particularly at the federal level. The Congress has come up with a lot of paliatives—the legislative veto, for example-which do not solve the problem at all . Part of the problem as I have noted is simply that the Congress has become professionalized; its members have a greater interest than ever before in remaining in office; and it is served by a bureaucracy and is much more subject to the power of individualized pressure groups than to the unorganized feelings of the majority of the citizens. This and other factors have created a real feeling of disenfranchisement that I think has a proper basis. The one remedy specifically provided for in the Constitution is the amendment process that bypasses the Congress. I would like to see that amendment process used just once. I do not much care what it is used for the first time, but using it once will exert an enormous influence on both the Congress and the Supreme Court. It will establish the parameters of what can be done and how, and after that the Congress and the Court will behave much better. …

    PROFESSOR SCALIA: May I rehabilitate myself? Maybe reach down a hand to pull Paul back up on the bandwagon? When I say I do not much care what it is about, I mean that among various respectable issues for a constitutional convention, I am relatively neutral as to which goes first. The process should be used for some significant issue that concerns the American people, but which issue is chosen is relatively unimportant. I would not want a convention for some silly purpose, of course. But I think there are many serious purposes around, many matters that profoundly concern the American people and about which they do not now have a voice. I really want to see the process used responsibly on a serious issue so that the shibboleth-the Richard Rovere alarm about the end of the world–can be put to rest and we can learn how to use the process responsibly in the future.

    Now you know

  3. Excerpts from American Enterprise Institute’s Panel Discussion on Article V with Panelist Antonin Scalia
    May 23, 1979
    p. 5
    MR. DALY: All right. Professor Scalia, Richard Rovere in the New Yorker, suggested that the convention method of amendment might reinstate segregation and even slavery, throw out much or all of the Bill of Rights, eliminate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, reverse any Supreme Court decision the members didn’t like, and perhaps for good measure, eliminate the Supreme Court, itself. [Laughter.] Now, what would you anticipate from an unlimited convention?

    ANTONIN SCALIA, professor of law, University of Chicago: I suppose it might even pass a bill of attainder to hang Richard Rovere. [Laughter.] All those things are possible, I suppose, just as it is possible that the Congress tomorrow might pass a law abolishing social security as of the next day, or eliminating Christmas. Such things are possible, remotely possible. I have no fear that such extreme proposals would come out of a constitutional convention. Surely, whether that risk is sufficient to cause anyone to be opposed to a constitutional convention depends on how high we think the risk is and how necessary we think the convention is. If we thought the Congress were not necessary for any other purpose, the risk that it might abolish social security would probably be enough to tell its members to go home. So, it really comes down to whether we think a constitutional convention is necessary. I think it is necessary for some purposes, and I am willing to accept what seems to me a minimal risk of intemperate action. The founders inserted this alternative method of obtaining constitutional amendments because they knew the Congress would be unwilling to give attention to many issues the people are concerned with, particularly those involving restrictions on the federal government’s own power. The founders foresaw that and they provided the convention as a remedy. If the only way to get that convention is to take this minimal risk, then it is a reasonable one.
    ***
    pp. 21-22
    PROFESSOR SCALIA: I have not proposed an open convention. Nobody in his right mind would propose it in preference to a convention limited to those provisions he wants changed . Regardless of the issue-say, a constitutional amendment on abortion-its supporters would want a convention that considers that issue and nothing else; or one that considers only the particular features of the Constitution that they do not like, but precludes consideration of those features they do like. I think there is nobody, except maybe one or two anarchists, who would sincerely want an open convention for its own sake, to expose the whole system to possible change. There comes a point, however, at which one has to be willing to run the risk of an open convention to get the changes that are wanted. Essentially what I have said is that there is some risk of an open convention, even with respect to the limited proposal of financial responsibility at the federal level. I think that risk is worth taking. It is not much of a risk. Three-quarters of the states would have to ratify whatever came out of the convention; therefore, I don’t worry about it too much. I would also be willing to run that risk for issues primarily involving the structure of the federal government and a few other so-called single issues. I would favor a convention on abortion, which some consider a single issue. I suppose slavery could have been called a single issue, too. It all depends on how deeply one feels about the issue. In any case, I do not have any great fear of an open convention, since three-quarters of the states do have to ratify what comes out of it. The clucking that Richard Rovere and others do about it is simply an intentional attempt to create panic and to make the whole idea sound unthinkable. It is not unthinkable at all; it is entirely thinkable.
    ***
    p. 36
    PROFESSOR SCALIA: I listed first among the things that I would like to have considered the structural issues at the federal level. I do not have a lack of trust in the American people. I am the one here who is least terrified of a convention. We have come a long way. We have gotten over many problems. But the fact remains that a widespread and deep feeling of powerlessness in the country is apparent with respect to many issues, not just the budget issue. The people do not feel that their wishes are observed. They are heard but they are not heeded, particularly at the federal level. The Congress has come up with a lot of paliatives—the legislative veto, for example-which do not solve the problem at all . Part of the problem as I have noted is simply that the Congress has become professionalized; its members have a greater interest than ever before in remaining in office; and it is served by a bureaucracy and is much more subject to the power of individualized pressure groups than to the unorganized feelings of the majority of the citizens. This and other factors have created a real feeling of disenfranchisement that I think has a proper basis. The one remedy specifically provided for in the Constitution is the amendment process that bypasses the Congress. I would like to see that amendment process used just once. I do not much care what it is used for the first time, but using it once will exert an enormous influence on both the Congress and the Supreme Court. It will establish the parameters of what can be done and how, and after that the Congress and the Court will behave much better. …

    PROFESSOR SCALIA: May I rehabilitate myself? Maybe reach down a hand to pull Paul back up on the bandwagon? When I say I do not much care what it is about, I mean that among various respectable issues for a constitutional convention, I am relatively neutral as to which goes first. The process should be used for some significant issue that concerns the American people, but which issue is chosen is relatively unimportant. I would not want a convention for some silly purpose, of course. But I think there are many serious purposes around, many matters that profoundly concern the American people and about which they do not now have a voice. I really want to see the process used responsibly on a serious issue so that the shibboleth-the Richard Rovere alarm about the end of the world–can be put to rest and we can learn how to use the process responsibly in the future.

    In his own words… Enough said

  4. We need to rein in DC, especially the federal courts. It’s either now or never.

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