Earlier this week, the Tea-Publicans in the Arizona House approved HCR 2017 (.pdf) on a largely party-line vote of 32-27, with one member not voting. Those voting in favor were all Tea-Publicans, including the “mythical moderate Republican” from Tucson, Ethan Orr.
Earlier this month I told you about how the Teabaggers want a Constitutional Convention so they can discard the U.S. Constitution and start all over, because that is what happened the last time we did this in 1787 to rewrite the Articles of Confederation. I always find it amusing that the very people who like to call themselves “constitutional conservatives” are so hellbent on wanting to rewrite the U.S. Constitution (many of them much prefer the Articles of Confederation — states rights!)
HCR 2017 (.pdf) is an “application for an Article V Convention to propose amendments to the United States (U.S.) Constitution.”
And what is it that the Teabaggers want?
- Impose fiscal restraints on the federal government;
- Limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and
- Limit the terms of office for officials of the federal government.
First of all, this latest right-wing gimmick is a product of the “Kochtopus” organization ALEC. the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch reports, Wisconsin Moving to Advance ALEC Constitutional Convention Scheme:
ALEC’s Stealth Convention
“AJR 81 comes right out of the ‘Convention of States’ workshop and materials presented at ALEC where state legislators were promised bundled campaign contributions and grassroots support if they joined this effort to amend the federal constitution,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, a Madison Democrat who attended ALEC’s Annual Meeting in Chicago last summer, in a statement. “I am alarmed that this effort is now making its way through the Wisconsin legislature and is tentatively scheduled to be considered by the full Assembly next Tuesday.”
ALEC has published a “how-to” manual for an Article V constitutional amendment, and at its last two meetings hosted workshops on amendment strategy from the group “Citizens for Self Governance,” led by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, and whose board includes Wisconsinite Eric O’Keefe (who has spoken publicly about being subpoenaed in Wisconsin’s John Doe probe in his role as Director of Wisconsin Club for Growth). Citizens for Self Governance seeks to use the amendment process to severely restrict federal power, for example by redefining the Commerce Clause to prohibit Congress from enacting child labor or anti-discrimination laws. In recent years, the Article V idea has spread in Republican circles thanks to right-wing radio host and author Mark Levin, and has been elevated by the likes of Glenn Beck.
Following ALEC’s December 2013 meeting in Washington D.C., the primary sponsor of AJR 81, Wisconsin Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), co-organized a convening of around 100 state legislators to discuss the Article V amendment process. (Last year, Rep. Kapenga was one of nine Wisconsin lawmakers who told a Tea Party group they wouldseek to arrest federal officials implementing the Affordable Care Act in the state). A followup meeting is planned for Spring of this year.
The push for a constitutional convention has garnered limited attention in the mainstream media. “A lot of Americans outside of these conservative circles have no idea this is going on, that all of these strategies are being developed to basically neuter the federal government, and what the ramifications of those strategies would be in the long run,” says Rachel Tabachnik, a research fellow at Political Research Associates, who has tracked the evolution of “state’s rights” efforts to amend the constitution. “These states are seeking to undo all civil rights, social safety nets, and regulatory functions that they don’t want.”
Companion Bill to Rein-In “Runaway Convention” Reflects ALEC Model
The right is not united in their support for the Article V constitutional amendment effort. The U.S. Constitution has never been amended through the Article V process, and many fear a “runaway convention” where delegates approve amendments other than a balanced budget — for example, an amendment that would address the harm caused by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The Heritage Foundation opposes an Article V convention for these reasons. One of the most consistent critics of the Article V effort has been The John Birch Society; the Convention of States group has taken their criticism seriously enough to post a response on their website.
In response to those fears, Rep. Kapenga has introduced a companion bill, AB 635, aimed at stymieing a “runaway convention” by declaring that delegates to the convention may not vote on other issues besides the balanced budget amendment, and providing that those who do will be immediately dismissed by the other delegates. This is nearly a word-for-word copy of the ALEC “Resolution for Limitations on Authority of state Delegates to a ‘Convention for Proposing Amendments’ under Article V of the US Constitution.”
NOTE: Tea-Publicans in the Arizona House also passed the limitation provisions, HB 2104 (.pdf), and HB 2397 (.pdf) on party-line votes of 36-23, which includes the “mythical moderate Republican” from Tucson, Ethan Orr.
Secondly, any legitimate economist (which eliminates the conservative think tank economists who get paid to propagandize such nonsense) would tell you that this is a dangerous and foolish idea. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has been publishing about this right-wing fantasy for years. A Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment Threatens Great Economic Damage (2011):
A balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution — including the version that the House is expected to consider this week — would be a highly ill-advised way to address the nation’s long-term fiscal problems. It would threaten significant economic harm while raising a host of problems for the operation of Social Security and other vital federal functions.
The economic problems are the most serious, and they would pertain to any version of a constitutional balanced budget amendment. By requiring a balanced budget every year, no matter the state of the economy, such an amendment would raise serious risks of tipping weak economies into recession and making recessions longer and deeper, causing very large job losses. That’s because the amendment would force policymakers to cut spending, raise taxes, or both just when the economy is weak or already in recession — the exact opposite of what good economic policy would advise.
And again in 2013, Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment is Extreme by International Standards:
Some proponents of a constitutional balanced budget amendment have argued that other developed countries’ constitutions require balanced budgets, suggesting that such a requirement for the federal government would therefore be appropriate. In reality, however, no European country — not even Germany or Switzerland, which are considered fiscally responsible compared to others — has adopted or is seriously considering a fiscal rule requiring a balanced budget in every year like the balanced budget amendments that Congress has debated in the past and that congressional Republicans continue to propose.
The “Fiscal Compact” that euro area countries signed in March 2012 limits the budget deficit these countries can run over an entire economic cycle, not every year. Governments can still run higher deficits during recessions in order to reduce the severity of economic downturns or in response to “exceptional circumstances.” In contrast, constitutional balanced budget amendment proposals, including one recently introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), would require a balanced federal budget every year, regardless of the state of the economy, unless a supermajority of both houses overrode that requirement.
A 2012 International Monetary Fund survey of 81 countries worldwide — including all member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — found that in 2011, not one had a constitutional balanced budget requirement that would require balance of the entire budget in every year, with no adjustment for economic cycles or capital investment.
Representative Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, tells me that an amendment is a simple, easily understood way “to put this government back in its proper role.”
The amendment has long been a popular idea. It is also a bad idea, which is why it’s a good thing it isn’t going to come close to being ratified.
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The amendment would make the federal government a smaller share of the economy than it has been since the 1950s. The chief economic argument against it is that it would make recessions worse. When recessions hit, they increase deficits: Revenue falls while spending on unemployment benefits (among other things) goes up. A strict balanced-budget rule would force spending cuts or tax increases at times of economic weakness.
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The economic argument assumes the amendment would be enforced. It isn’t clear how it would be. If the government were projected to run a deficit, would the courts step in to cut spending or raise taxes? The senators’ amendment rules out judicial tax increases but leaves the door open for court- ordered cuts in defense spending or Social Security benefits. The result would be a major expansion of judicial power over American life, brought to us by the party that has rightly warned against the growth of that very power for decades.
This constitutional convention idea is a terrible idea from the “Kochtopus” organization ALEC. So naturally the Tea-Publicans in the Arizona House voted for it.