July 2019 Newsletter

This Month…

  • Congress: Not the Source of Answers to America’s Problems
  • Does Anybody Care about America’s $22 Trillion Debt?
  • Can You Say Ponzi Scheme?
  • Dan Mitchell Challenges USA Today Editorial on Debt
  • Cato Writer Chides Republican Freedom Caucus on Debt
  • Democrats Warned Debt Can’t be Wished Away
  • Swiss Spending Cap Continues to be Successful
  • Professor Seeks Crowdsourced Rights Amendments
  • Washington Standard Op Piece Claims CoSP Cheated Utah
  • Anti-Citizens United Group’s Claims in Doubt
  • A Digest of Some Especially Good Related Reads


Congress is Not the Source of Answers to America’s Problems –
NOTE: The following editorial is based on research services provided by Ballotpedia.org, GovTrack.US and BillTrack50.com (LegiNation).

AN EDITORIAL by Stuart MacPhail
Some advocates for solving national spending, deficit, and debt problems… and related national issues… think it is great that members of Congress are introducing and co-sponsoring proposed constitutional amendments.  Those advocates include some very prominent national organizations and their seemingly influential boards and leadership.  Is their hope misplaced?

During the current session of Congress at least 58 members of Congress have introduced or co-sponsored at least 10 resolutions calling for constitutional amendments seeking to impose some form of fiscal restraint on Congress.  That doesn’t include the previously introduced resolutions calling for the Constitution to be amended for a myriad of reasons, such as term limits, overturning certain Supreme Court decisions, resurrecting the 47-year-old ERA proposal, etc.

The sad reality is that very few of these measures will ever see a floor vote… even in one chamber.  And, none of them are likely to be approved by 2/3 votes in both chambers.  Does the term “dead on arrival” ring a bell?

Would it be an overstatement to say that America’s national legislature has deteriorated into a colossal waste of time, energy and money?  If so, not by much.

Putting this in context…
As of mid-June members of the 116th Congress have introduced 6,161 bills and resolutions; that’s an average of almost a dozen per Congressperson.  Keep that 6,161 number in mind while reading below.  That number is expected to double before the end of this session.

Each member of Congress also selectively signs on as a co-sponsor of measures introduced by other members, giving each Congressperson a wide array of bills they can go home and tell their constituents they support.

During the past roughly five months 225 resolutions (of all types) have passed.  That includes 21 “enacted bills and resolutions”.  In addition, there are 197 bills and joint/concurrent resolutions that had a significant vote in one chamber, making them likely to see further action.  Historically only about 6% of all introduced resolutions are ultimately passed.

So… what is the probability that both chambers of the US Congress will ultimately discuss, vote on, and adopt ANY proposed constitutional amendment on ANY topic?

Clearly… if America is to find its way out of its many problems (excess debt, national identity/sovereignty issues, divisiveness, sluggish leadership, etc.) it is up to the 7,470 state legislators to provide leadership.

Now is the time.  If we are to restore federalism, wherein the States retain their sovereign status, State legislators MUST meet to confer in a non-partisan spirit (in some sort of Summit of States???), deliberate, and propose some meaningful “fixes” to America’s governance issues.  Congress has demonstrated that it will not do its job… so state leaders MUST use their Constitutionally-authorized powers… and step up.

Does Anybody Really Care about America’s $22 Trillion Debt? –
On June 18 the Orlando Sentinel carried a piece entitled “National debt is $22 trillion and counting, and neither party cares”. The author, Scott Maxwell, says “At $22 trillion, the national debt is so large, it’s hard for most people to fathom.  The number has more zeros than a football team has players on the field: $22,000,000,000,000.”

He points out that “It took this country more than a century to accumulate its first trillion dollars in debt.  Now we add a trillion dollars each year.”

Maxwell writes “Every now and again someone makes a stab at curbing the debt and gets roundly rejected. Republican Sen. Rand Paul tried just two weeks ago but was pooh-poohed by most of his fellow Republicans….  Paul’s plan was flawed.  But most politicians have given up on even trying — including those who constantly yap about being fiscal conservatives.”  Read Maxwell’s piece HERE.

Can You Say Ponzi Scheme? –
According to a May 15 report produced by the Foundation for Economic Education, “The US Is 5 Years Away from a National Debt Death Spiral”.  Author Craig Eyermann asserts, “Net interest on the national debt has become one of the fastest growing segments of federal spending”.

Eyermann notes that “According to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Debt Management, the U.S. government is just five years away from the point where every new dollar it borrows from the public will go toward funding interest payments on the national debt.”

The documented report claims that “the US will enter the penultimate, Ponzi Finance, phase – the one in which all the new debt issuance is used to fund only interest on the debt – sometime around in 2024.”  Read Eyemann’s report HERE.

Dan Mitchell Challenges USA Today Editorial on Debt –
In a June 5 opinion piece for USA Today, Daniel Mitchell of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity expressed a view opposing that of the USA Today editors when he wrote: “Blame spending, not Trump tax cuts, for the national Debt”.

Mitchell is regarded as an expert on fiscal policy issues such as tax reform, the economic impact of government spending, and supply-side tax policy.  He says “deficits and debt are best understood as symptoms of the real problem of too much spending.”

He points out “Indeed, all you need to know is that nominal GDP is projected to grow by an average of about 4.0 percent annually over the next 30 years while the federal budget is projected to grow 5.2 percent per year”.  He says, “The only good solution for our fiscal problems is some sort of spending cap, similar to the successful systems in Hong Kong and Switzerland”.  Read more of his views HERE.  Also read Mitchell’s report on the success of the Swiss Debt Brake initiative below.

Cato Writer Chides Republican Freedom Caucus on Debt –
On June 4 Cato Institute writer Chris Edwards issued a statement under the heading Freedom Caucus and Spending Cuts wherein he said: “Federal spending will rise more than 7 percent this year and annual deficits will soon top $1 trillion.  The government’s rising debt could generate a major financial and economic crisis.”

Edwards thinks the 32-member House Freedom Caucus should be leading the charge on this issue.  He says “If anyone in Congress is focused on the deficit problem and pushing spending cuts, it should be these folks.”

The writer believes “Every concerned member of Congress should be using their websites to inform the public about the threat [of overspending] and proposing detailed and specific solutions.”

He points out that the federal government runs 2,300 different subsidy or benefit programs.  “Yet, on average, Freedom Caucus members only mention four that they want to cut or reform.”  Read his piece HERE.

Democrats Warned Debt Can’t be Wished Away –
About the same time as the CATO piece above, the Wall Street Journal carried a piece by Pierre Yared, a professor at Columbia Business School, entitled Democrats Can’t Wish the National Debt Away.

The writer lists several economists who advise that more new massive spending programs and the national debt are not problems.  As an example Stephanie Kelton, a former economic adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, is quoted as saying “One of the greatest cons ever perpetrated on the American people is this notion that the national debt belongs to us, that we are responsible in our individual capacity for a share of it.”

Yared details how some of those economists reach their conclusions and says, “Such magical thinking is dangerous.”  He explains the fallacy of the above thinking and concludes by saying “Americans can appreciate the virtues of fiscal responsibility, and it’s time to be honest about the costs of continuing to kick the debt down the road. That road is a cul-de-sac.”  Read Yared’s piece HERE.

Heritage Holds Conference on Confronting the National Debt –
In early June the Heritage Foundation hosted a conference on Confronting the National Debt.

“We are the world’s strongest economy – we are not going to default on our debt,” said Marc Goldwein at the confab. “But, if we continue on our current course, we could cause a global financial crisis, we could cause an inflation crisis, we could cause an austerity crisis. I don’t know how it will play out, but I don’t really want to find out.”  Watch a podcast of the conference HERE.

Swiss Spending Cap Continues to be Successful –
Over the past few years this publication and several others have extolled the virtues of “The Swiss Debt Brake” as a model for injecting fiscal responsibility into America’s national fiscal policies.

Dan Mitchell of International Liberty has posted a review of the national spending-cap program Switzerland imposed on itself 15 years ago.  He notes that “Before the law went into effect in 2003, government spending was expanding by an average of 4.3% per year. Since then it’s increased by only 2.6% annually.”

He recently updated his calculations using IMF data.  “Looking at the numbers from 2003-2018,” he says, “[Swiss] government spending has grown by an average of 2.1 percent per year since the debt brake went into effect.”  In other words, the policy is becoming more successful over time.

Mitchell uses three charts to show that while debt levels have jumped in other industrialized nations, the level of red ink in Switzerland has declined, and while other European nations have experienced fiscal crisis and ever-increasing amounts of debt, “Switzerland has been an island of budgetary tranquility.”  Read his review HERE.

Professor Seeks Crowdsourced Rights Amendments –
Greg Blonder, a professor at Boston University has floated the idea of using Crowdsourcing as a way to draft potential constitutional amendments and raise funds to pay the costs associated with such a venture.

He notes that in 1788, the US Constitution was ratified only on the strength of promises to redress the Constitution’s perceived inadequate rights guarantees.  With much of the country likely opposed to the document as initially presented, backers ultimately added 10 remedial amendments that became the Bill of Rights.  Blonder wants to propose “a second Bill of Rights”.

The College of Engineering professor has founded We Amend (https://weamend.us/), a nonprofit to crowdsource a second Bill of Rights.  Even though the We Amend approach is based on the notion of broad citizen involvement in drafting proposed constitutional amendments, it apparently relies on Congress to do the actual proposing, rather than a convention of states.  A Boston University story about Blonder’s efforts can be read HERE.

Washington Standard Op Piece Claims CoSP Cheated Utah –
An opinion piece carried in The Washington Standard claims that the Convention of States Project (CoSP) “cheated” Utah legislators recently when the group successfully persuaded them to support a convention of states resolution.

The piece, written by Don Fotheringham (a frequent opponent of Article V efforts) under the heading How The Convention Of States Cheated Utah uses many of the false propositions typically advanced by opponents of the Article V movement.

The writer states that Article V convention “Delegates  …  would have the inherent power to make unlimited changes in the Constitution — even to establish a new form of government.”  However, under the terms of Article V, delegates can only “propose” amendments, not “make” changes to the Constitution.

Fotheringham says of Article V proponents: “They overlook (or cover up) the fact that a new Constitution would have a new mode of ratification.”  There could be no “new mode of ratification” short of a constitutional amendment calling for such a change…and  subsequently ratified by ¾ of the States to allow such change.

He says, “Their only hope for capturing the 34 states needed to trigger a convention is uncontested deception.  In the state hearings they resort to stratagems and legislative shenanigans to prevent opposing voices from being heard.”  His rant can be read HERE.

Wyoming Legislature Asked to Audit Constitutional Limitations –
During May the Wyoming GOP Central Committee adopted a resolution calling for the Wyoming Legislature to perform an audit of the federal government “in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.”

According to the Gillette News Record, the resolution reads that the federal government’s powers are enumerated under the Constitution and thereby limited, stating: “None of the states in the republic, especially Wyoming and the original thirteen, acquiesced to an unlimited general government” and that “new states were expected to enter the Union with equal powers, equal footing, and equal sovereignty.”

Reportedly, “The resolution further states that many executive departments ‘are exercising roles, responsibilities and powers that have not been formally delegated to the general government by the states’ under the Constitution including the departments of Interior, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, Education and several others.”

No action has been taken on the proposal by the Wyoming legislature.  The legislature is now out of session.

Anti-Citizens United Group’s Claims in Doubt –
A group that does business under the name People for the American Way (PFAW) recently sent out a fundraising email.  The group claims its purpose is to “overturn [the Supreme Court’s decision on] Citizens United and related cases!”

The fundraising email claimed that a recent decision by the New Hampshire legislature on HB 504 made NH the 20th state to support their movement.  However, as of late June the respected Legiscan web site reflects that HB 504 has so far only received a House committee “Ought to Pass” recommendation… and that the bill is only 50% through the NH legislative process.

The email also contained a map that purports to show the 20 states supporting its efforts.  That map includes Colorado where state legislators report that they know of no legislative action taken in support of the PFAW proposal.

Although the PFAW web site reflects a list of prominent board members, when the seeming inconsistencies were brought to the attention of PFAW staff, no explanation was provided.

A Digest of Some Especially Good Related Reads –

“Crazy pork barrel projects are one more exhibit of reckless spending”, by Kristin Tate, appeared in the June 9 edition of The Hill.  The writer says “The budget is broken, in part, because politicians count on two factors. First, voters do not pay very close attention.  Second, when they do pay attention they want politicians to be doing something.  Earmarking a half million dollars for a Sparta Teapot Museum or another $273,000 toward ‘fighting Goth culture’ might seem like exactly what your own member of Congress should be doing.”

Ms. Tate points out that “Several [governmental agencies] operate under a ‘use it or lose it’ budget, where there is a mad dash to spend before the fiscal year ends, because if they do not extinguish the last nickel, their budget will fall to the amount actually expended.  As a result, when the fiscal year ends each September, agencies will blow through the rest of their budgets on suddenly ‘necessary’ projects.”  She reported that “These totaled nearly $100 billion in the last fiscal year, with over half spent in the last week of the calendar.”  Read her report HERE.

***
“When It Comes to Government, Bigger Is Not Better” says Chris Talgo in a May 30 Townhall piece.  The writer laments that according to recent polls, a large number of Americans (especially Millennials) prefer an empowered collective and unfettered federal power as they support Medicare for All, the “Green New Deal,” and other programs that would vastly increase the size and scope of the federal government.

He points out that “in the past two centuries, the federal government has run rampant in its quest for ever greater power—power the Constitution sought to limit.”  Noting Thomas Jefferson’s warning that “the natural progress of things is for the government to gain ground and for liberty to yield,” he says “the Article V amendment process offers Americans—via state legislatures—the unique opportunity to reverse this disturbing trend.”  Read his piece HERE.

***
Act2 Movement founder Frank Keeney hungers to see the convention of states provisions in Article V of the Constitution put to work.  He has studied related issues relentlessly over the last several years, and has just released two essays aimed at that end.

Keeney makes a succinct  argument for use of the emergency valve option that the Founders provided in Article V in The Case for an Article V Convention.  It is a brief overview of why America needs to exercise the second option within Article V of the Constitution.  Keeney says, “When we look critically at the performance of our elected federal officials, we see that their failures have compounded the problems created by our social changes: they violated their sacred trust to put the nation’s interests above their own, mismanaged the finances of the nation, misled the people as to the truth of our national condition, imposed obligations on the states without their consent and created unaccountable agencies which undermine the rule of law.”

In The Fork in the Road Frank points out that “we have never needed to resort to a convention of states to accomplish desired reforms.  Whenever Congress saw that the mood of the country favored a reform they jumped to the head of the parade and initiated the amendment action; they have done this for all of our 27 amendments.”  However, he says, “because of changes that have occurred in the workings of Congress in recent years, it appears that the congressional option is not viable and Reformers must work through the state legislatures.”

Mr. Keeney says: “The decision of how to combat the opposition of the Threatened Interests was the fork, and many of the Reformers chose the path of the limited-agenda convention.  It turned out to be a contentious path and consumed reform efforts in unresolved debates.  Reformers were forced to play defense, losing the initiative; their programs stalled.”

Keeney concludes that “the case for an open convention (a “plenary” convention in legal jargon) is strong,” and he offers practical reasoning that argues strongly for an open convention.   Both thoughtful essays were published during June by the Heartland Institute.  Read them by clicking on the name of each essay.

***
Amending the US Constitution: A Basic Guide is a new publication by Article V scholar Rob Natelson, released in June and published by The Epoch Times.  Natelson notes that “When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, the delegates decided early on that if their new Constitution were to last, there had to be an amendment procedure.”

As Natelson says, “Historically, amendments have proven to be powerful vehicles for reform. Americans have used constitutional amendments to protect minority rights, guarantee women the vote, enact the Bill of Rights, overrule the Supreme Court, limit the president to two terms, and abolish slavery in states not covered by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.”  The Guide is available HERE.

***
Article V – The Healing Principle is a short essay by Rodney Dodsworth.  He says “Our experience shows what our Framers learned from their study of past republics: corruption of governing forms is inevitable and the corruption doesn’t well up from the people; it slowly flows downward from those in power.”

Dodsworth says of the Founders: “Americans demonstrated to the world how a people could fundamentally and yet amiably alter their forms of government.  ‘This revolution principle – that, the sovereign power residing in the people, they may change their constitution and government whenever they please – is,’ said James Wilson, ‘not a principle of discord, rancour, or war; it is a principle of melioration, contentment, and peace.’  Through the Healing Principle in Article V, Americans had in fact constitutionalized and legitimized peaceful revolution.”  Read Dodsworth’s views HERE.

***
In a new piece for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Utah State Rep Ken Ivory poses the question Washington: Are They Drunk, or Just Stoned?

Ivory offers some enlightening history on federal efforts to control alcohol and marijuana.  That history offers some good lessons on how the federal government ultimately began using what Ivory calls the “shampoo formula” (lather, rinse, repeat) for expanding its powers at the expense of state sovereignty.

Rep. Ivory says “Enlightened by his study of man’s relation to government throughout recorded history, Thomas Jefferson warned, ’A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for the second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering’.”

Ivory suggests, “It really doesn’t matter if Washington today is constitutionally drunk, or just stoned.  As prominent Founder John Dickinson cautioned: ‘In short, the government of each state is, and is to be, sovereign and supreme in all matters that relate to each state only.  It is to be subordinate barely in those matters that relate to the whole; and IT WILL BE THEIR OWN FAULTS [emphasis added], if the several states suffer the federal sovereignty to interfere in the things of their respective jurisdictions’.”  Read Ivory’s piece HERE.

Who Said It?
Talking about the second option in Article V
of the proposed new Constitution he said:

“This clause ought to be written in letters of gold…”
describing the clause as
“fair opportunity furnished for amendments provided by the states.”
Convention Delegate Colonel William Barton
Said during the Rhode Island ratifying convention
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