August 2019 Newsletter

This Month…

  • Heritage Holds Symposium on Restoring Federalism
  • Amendment Expert Warns of Missing A5 Applications
  • Former Dem Leader Harry Reid: ‘Deficit is going to bury us’
  • Other Observations on America’s Excessive Debt
  • Former US Comptroller: ‘Time to Confront Fiscal Failure’
  • Mismanagement is Costing Taxpayers a Fortune
  • Missouri Editorial Offers ‘Show-Me’ State as an Example
  • Writer Says ‘It’s About Time to Use Article V’
  • An Update on Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Heritage Holds Symposium on Restoring Federalism –
The Heritage Foundation hosted a half-day symposium on July 17 entitled Restoring Federalism: Giving Power Back to the States.  The event featured White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and eight panelists.

Included on the panels were several executive branch officials… and (surprisingly) only two state legislators: Utah State Rep Ken Ivory and Michigan State Senator Aric Nesbitt.

During one panel session Russ Vought, Acting Director, Office of Management & Budget said: “When we talk about Washington having a spending problem—and it does, $22 trillion in debt, trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, we all know … our revenues are at historical averages. Our spending is not. We have a spending problem in Washington, D.C., but it’s a federalism problem.”

Reportedly by that Vought meant that much of the federal spending goes toward programs better handled at the state and local level.  He added: “What happens is that the federal government is doing things outside what the Constitution would have us be doing. That means that states, in some respects, don’t have the need to figure out whether they should be doing something more effectively, with their knowledge of their voters, their constituents.  Sometimes, that can lead to poor incentives, where Washington uses the hook of federal spending to change behaviors that the people of that state or locality would otherwise not be supportive of.”

Rep. Ivory used his time to make two appeals.  He called for the President to “create a National Federation Commission and convene a National Federalism Summit for the Administration, the States, and members of Congress to reestablish a clear division of roles and responsibilities in the governing partnership between the national government and the States”.

Ivory’s second appeal was directed at his fellow state legislators, “to take upon ourselves the responsibility, and hold ourselves to a higher standard of professio9nalism, in securing the rights of the American people through committing ourselves to a National Continuing Legislator Education Certification.  Those wishing to view the entire Symposium may do so HERE.

Amendment Expert Warns of Missing Article V Applications –
In response to the July edition of this newsletter Gregory Watson wrote to inform that the already-adopted Article V applications of four states still are not properly filed with the federal government.

For those who do not know him, Watson is the man who almost-singlehandedly shepherded the 27th Amendment into the US Constitution, 202 years after it was proposed by James Madison.  He knows firsthand the appropriate procedures for transmitting amendment-related documents to the federal government.  Learn more about him HERE.

Watson points out that once a state legislature adopts an application for an Article V convention, certified copies of that approved resolution must be transmitted (in hard copy), over appropriately signed letters to the leaders of both Houses of the US Congress.

It appears that in one case state authorities mailed their notices to the US Senate and the US House… together… in a single envelope.  That does not work.  In another case a state emailed their notices to Congress.  That doesn’t work either.

Today there exists no evidence that either federal House is in possession of the Nebraska legislature’s 2010 LR538.  Likewise, there is no evidence that the US Senate is in possession of Tennessee’s 2014 HJR548, Utah’s 2015 HJR7, nor Wyoming’s 2017 Enrolled HJR2.  All of these are applications for a BBA-focused Article V convention of states.

It appears that Utah’s SJR9 (2019), the Convention of States Project (CoSP) proposal, also has not yet been officially received by the US Senate.

Someone in each of these states needs to take the lead in assuring that the tough work of approving those applications is not lost due to non-completion of the proper final filing processes.

Former Dem Leader Harry Reid: ‘The deficit is going to bury us’
On April 23, 2019, C-Span conducted an interview with former US Senate Majority Leader (2007-2015) Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and former US House Speaker (2011-2015) John Boehner (R-Ohio), with moderator Chuck Todd.

In that interview Reid said “I believe…and this may sound unusual coming from a Democrat with the voting record that I had… I think we are right at a tipping point.  And what is that tipping point?  We have taken our eye off of one of the big problems facing this country.  We are not talking about it at all. 

“We are driving ourselves into bankruptcy.  We have got to do something.  It is coming more quickly than we think… this huge deficit.  We could wind up having a trillion dollar deficit in one year.  And remember, we are only paying the interest on the debt.”

Talking about Social Security, Mr. Todd pointed out: “They are tapping into the Trust Fund”.  Reid responded: “There’s no question that all of the programs that we have that are fixtures in our budgets, we have to look at them and change them.  But I am saying now… I repeat… the deficit is going to bury us.  And we are going to feel this.  It’s going to be something members of Congress and leaders in Congress cannot ignore.  They’re going to be forced to do something about [these] issues.  Otherwise we will never ever have money to take care of the deteriorating infrastructure we have.”

Boehner followed up by saying: “We’re all living 20 to 30 years longer than anyone ever thought, 20 to 30 years longer than these retirement programs were ever designed to take into account.  These programs need to be restructured.  [They are] the biggest drivers of our spending.”

Watch the interview, conducted at a University of Nevada’s MGM Resorts Public Policy Institute event, beginning at the 36-minute point, HERE.

Other Observations on America’s Excessive Debt –
In a recent commentary by Justin Bogie of the Heritage Foundation, Bogie said: “A new government report has given us a glimpse into our nation’s fiscal future, and the outlook is grim.  Absent major reforms, America’s debt will only continue to balloon”.

Bogie also said: “Debt held by the public is set to rise to nearly one and a half times the size of the economy in the coming decades.” And “The bottom line is this: If Congress is to avoid a debt crisis, it must implement strong spending restraints now.”  Read Bogie”s piece HERE.

***
A June 25 statement issued by the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition says: “The nonpartisan CBO report should sound alarm bells within both parties to work together to get our nation out of this fiscal mess.  If we don’t act, future generations will be forced to bear the burden of our failure.  On the current path, next year, we will spend more on interest on the debt than all federal funding that supports our kids. 

“In 27 years, we will spend more on interest than the entire discretionary budget, including defense and all domestic programs.  It is clear we are on a dangerous and unsustainable course—and we need to do something about this now.  The decisions won’t be easy, but our children and our grandchildren are counting on us to make this right.  In the coming months, we look forward to pulling together a plan to turn the tide around and begin to get our nation back on the path to fiscal sustainability.”

The Blue Dog Coalition updated their call for a federal Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) in mid-July, as reported by The Hill under the heading Moderate Democrats renew calls for balanced budget amendment as spending deal nears.  Read it HERE.

The actual Blue Dog Blueprint for Fiscal Reform is available HERE.  It sets forth an extensive list of priorities that the minority Democratic group believes will help reduce federal budget deficits and bring down national debt.

***
On July 5 The American Spectator carried a piece by economists John Merrifield and Barry Poulson lauding two Democratic Congressmen for introducing House Joint Resolutions 55 and 18, supported by the Blue Dog Coalition, calling for a constitutional amendment to restrain federal spending.

The writers observe that “In the current legislative session, Republicans have introduced 16 resolutions calling for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.  With such bipartisan support, enacting a resolution for a balanced-budget amendment should be a slam dunk.”  Read their piece HERE.

***
Under the heading “Switzerland’s budget surplus shows power of constitutional restraints on federal spending” on July 10 the Convention of States Project (CoSP) extoled the virtues of the so-called “Swiss Debt Brake” as a model for the US to use in reining-in America’s growing national debt.  Read the CoSP article HERE.

***
On July 8 CNS News carried a related piece entitled “Switzerland Has a Budget Surplus. Here’s How and What the U.S. Could Learn”.  The writer notes that “The Swiss budget for 2020 will have a $615 million surplus, even after 2019 tax and pension reforms lowered revenues and raised spending.”  Read this piece HERE.

***
According to a poll conducted for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and released in June, “There is bipartisan agreement among voters that America’s ability to tackle important issues is inextricably linked to the national debt.”

Their report says “Nine in ten voters (92%) agree that managing the national debt will ‘lead to a better future for the next generation of Americans,’ including 71% who ‘strongly agree.’  This attitude spans partisan lines, as 92% of Democrats, 91% of independent voters, and 94% of Republicans agree that future generations of Americans will be better off if the national debt is addressed.”  Read that report HERE.

***
On July 25 a coalition of 21 prominent organizations sent a powerful letter to all members of Congress imploring them to support the Maximizing America’s Prosperity Act of 2019 (MAP).  The proposed measure would cap primary federal spending (both discretionary and entitlement spending) to a percentage of potential GDP… similar to the Swiss Debt Brake.  The bill was introduced by US Senator Mike Braun and US Rep. Kevin Brady.

The organizational CEOs who signed the letter collectively represent millions of Americans.  The letter urges members of Congress to “co-sponsor and support this critical piece of legislation as a component of desperately needed fiscal responsibility in Washington”.  Read the one-page letter HERE.

Former US Comptroller: ‘Time to Confront Fiscal Failure’
David Walker, who served two decades as the US Comptroller General, wrote in The Hill that “It is time to confront fiscal failure”.  He points out that Congress has passed timely annual budgets and appropriation bills only four times over the past 67 years.  He says “That performance deserves a grade of F”.

He suggests that the federal government should move to biennial budgets, should adopt separate operational and capital budgets like a vast majority of the states have, and should adopt a “no budget no pay” policy (where members of Congress would not get paid if all appropriations bills were not passed by the beginning of the fiscal year).

He says the debt ceiling should be repealed and replaced with a statutory debt-to-gross domestic-product limit.

Walker says, “Given the seriousness of our fiscal challenge and the failure of statutory budget control approaches in the past, Congress should pass a federal fiscal responsibility amendment to the Constitution that, among other things, limits debt to gross domestic product to no more than a stated percentage absent a formal declaration of war or a super majority vote by the Congress.  This provision would have to be acted on each fiscal year that the limit would otherwise apply.  Violation of this provision should result in no member of Congress being able to campaign for reelection.”

Finally, Walker advises, “If the Congress fails to pass a fiscal responsibility amendment, the states should exercise their power under Article V of the Constitution and do so through a single issue convention.”  Read Walker’s full piece HERE.

Bureaucratic Mismanagement is Costing Taxpayers a Fortune –
During July analysts at the Heritage Foundation released a report that demonstrates how improper federal payments are sapping federal resources.

The report, complete with a chart showing which federal programs are responsible for the biggest “improper payments”, says that “Improper payments can mean the government paid someone the wrong amount of money, paid the wrong person, paid for the wrong reason, or paid someone who used the funds in a fraudulent way,” and says that the Government Accountability Office reports that “in 2018 the federal government made nearly $150 billion in improper payments”.

One example cited was Social Security paying nearly $1 billion in benefits to dead people.  “A 2015 Social Security Administration inspector general’s report found there to be 6.5 million active Social Security numbers for people over the age of 112.”  As of July 8, only 33 people in the world were known to be alive at age 112 or older.

Citing Forbes magazine, the report says “$1.2 trillion of improper payments have been made since 2004.”  As examples the report says: “Last year $1.77 billion in food stamps were improperly paid because recipients failed to provide accurate and timely information, which meant the government had little way to verify if those food stamps reached people who actually needed them,” and “Another $1.5 billion was improperly paid because state or local administrators didn’t coordinate with each other about the federal benefits households receive.”  Read the Heritage report HERE.

Missouri Editorial Offers ‘Show-Me’ State as an Example –
A July 3 editorial in the Jefferson City, Missouri News Tribune was headlined “To control spending, feds should look to Show-Me State”.

The editor says “Missourians should be proud of their elected state officials, who put their federal counterparts to shame in at least one area: controlling government spending.”  In 1980 Missourians adopted a balanced budget provision for their state constitution.  It restricts the amount by which fees and taxes can be increased and also limits the amount of personal income used to fund state government.

The amendment shifts much of the decisions about taxing Missourians directly to them, through statewide votes.  Because of the amendment, lawmakers are extremely limited in how much they can increase taxes and spending.

The editorial underscores the out-of-control spending by the federal government and asks “So what can be done?  More and more, we’re convinced that no Congress or president will ever have the political will to balance the federal budget, much less knock down the debt.”  It goes on to say “That leaves it up to us.  Most US states and some other countries have balanced budget requirements in their constitutions.  This might be our best chance to put the brakes on our spiraling debt.”  Read the editorial HERE.

***
On July 3 a publication calling itself The Complete Colorado carried a report by David Kopel on Colorado’s TABOR Amendment (Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a citizen-initiated state constitutional provision adopted in 1992, similar to the one in Missouri).  The report highlights Colorado’s initiative process and its history.  Kopel is a research director at the Independence Institute and adjunct professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law.  TABOR is currently under attack in Colorado.  Read Kopel’s piece HERE.

Writer Says ‘It’s About Time to Use Article V’ –
In a recent commentary carried in The SandPaper, a newsmagazine for east-central New Jersey, the author says “We all, presumably, love and respect the Constitution of the United States.  So why do we ignore Article V?”  The article by John M. Imperiale is entitled Constitutional Correction Course – It’s About Time to Use Article V.

Imperiale says, “The men who drafted the Constitution were aware of its imperfections.  They trusted that it would be amended over time and thoroughly examined by future generations.  Thomas Jefferson believed each generation ought to write its own Constitution.  Benjamin Franklin, before casting his vote for the Constitution, said, “I agree to this Constitution with all of its faults.…

“Knowing that they did not get it perfect the first time, the Founding Fathers made sure there were ample provisions for amending the Constitution over time, as they fully expected would happen.  They gave us Article V.  But it has not been utilized, not nearly as often as they would have expected.

“Jefferson was right: Times change. We should not change the essence of our Constitution. But we should look at it in light of today’s world and with future generations in mind. It is time for an Article V convention.”  Read the full article HERE.

An Update on Proposed Constitutional Amendments –

Scott Walker Keeps BBA Issue Alive –
On July 1 FOX News reported that former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recent appointment as honorary chairman of the Center for State-led National Debt Solutions (an affiliate of the BBA Task Force) was keeping BBA-related Article V convention efforts in the news.  Read the story HERE.

However, it appears Walker’s tenure with the BBA movement will be short-lived.  A July 15 Associated Press article reported that starting in January 2021 Walker will have a new full-time job as president of the Young America’s Foundation, a national conservative youth organization.  Walker said he won’t run for office in 2022.  He was reported as saying “I won’t be engaged in anything else.  This will be my sole occupation.”  Hopefully over the next 17 months Walker can help move the BBA effort forward.  Read the AP report HERE.

***
Term Limits Drive Moves Forward on Two Fronts –
In mid-June a hearing was held by the Judiciary Subcommittee of the US Senate on Senator Cruz’s SJ Resolution 1, a bill that seeks to impost constitutional term limits on members of the US House and Senate.  Reportedly, it was the first congressional hearing on term limits in twenty years.  Read about the hearing HERE.

Meanwhile US Term Limits has been showing success in getting state legislators to pledge their support for such a constitutional provision.  In mid-July Pennsylvania State Representative Ryan Mackenzie filed HR444 (along with 6 co-sponsors) calling for an Article V convention of states to propose term limits on Congress.

Philip Blumel, President of US Term Limits commended Mackenzie for introducing the measure.  He said that “The people of Pennsylvania are lucky to have public servants like Rep. Mackenzie who sees what is going on in Washington and is willing to take action to fix it.  By using Article V to term limit Congress, balance can be restored between states and the federal government, as our Founders intended.”

***
Cannabis Legalization Sought via Constitutional Amendment –
2020 Presidential Candidate and US Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) has announced the formation of Amendit.us, a non-profit 501c4 organization “acting as the foundation” for a nationwide campaign to de-schedule and legalize cannabis through a constitutional amendment.

Gravel is quoted as saying “I believe an amendment to repeal the War on Cannabis could easily secure the two-thirds vote needed in the House.”  He went on to say: “If the Senate fails to pass the legislation, we would use the power of ratification by individual states to achieve the goal, just as was done to repeal alcohol prohibition 85 years ago.” 

Unfortunately Gravel misses a step.  Before states could ratify such a proposal (after failure of Congress to propose it) a convention of states would have to propose it.  Then ratification could be considered.  Read about Gravel’s proposal HERE.

***
Amendment Proposes to “Guarantee” High Quality Education –
US Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) has introduced HJ69, a proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to guarantee “high-quality education” for all American children.

The proposed amendment reads: “The United States, the States, Indian Tribes, and territories shall jointly ensure a high-quality education to all persons within the United States.  The Congress shall have power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

The term “high-quality” is not defined.  Read about the proposal HERE.

A Closing Thought…

“Simply uniting the legislatures of 2/3 or more of the states
in support of a specific Amendment, without ever calling for or even threatening a Convention, would have a powerful impact.
Such an effort could unite both supporters and opponents of a Convention, who do support a particular Amendment
and lead to the proposal of such an Amendment by Congress.”
Roman Buhler, Director
The American Federalism Project
www.AmericanFederalism.org
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