U.S. Constitution Pitfalls

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The time-tested republican ideals established in our U.S. Constitution are threatened by both the currently proposed federal balanced budget amendments and calls for a constitutional convention. Our Indiana General Assembly must (1) NOT be given the opportunity to ratify the currently proposed federal balanced budget amendments and (2) NOT make application to call a convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

Constitutional Convention Pitfall

Article V of our U.S. Constitution provides that "The Congress ..., on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which ... shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that ... no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of it’s equal Suffrage in the Senate." The meaning of this Article V can be summarized as follows.

1. A Convention to propose Amendments to our U.S. Constitution MUST be called by our U.S. Congress if the Legislatures of 34 States pass a resolution calling for a Convention.

2. Our U.S. Congress would either (a) appoint the delegates or (b) determine the method(s) of appointing the delegates to the called Convention.

3. The presence of the plural word "Amendments" means that a called Convention can propose Amendments without limitation. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Federalist Papers mention that a called Convention can be limited beforehand to what Amendments can be proposed.

4. Congress would decide whether Amendments proposed by a called Convention would be subject to ratification by the Legislature or a Convention within each State.

5. Amendments proposed by a called Convention would be become part of the U.S. Constitution if ratified by 38 State Legislatures (or State Conventions).

6. Unless a State consents, a called Convention is not allowed to propose an Amendment that would eliminate one or both of the U.S. Senators that represent the State.

The five Joint Resolutions listed next were filed during the 2011 Indiana General Assembly session making application to the U.S. Congress to call a convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

The five Joint Resolutions listed next were filed during the 2011 Indiana General Assembly session making application to the U.S. Congress to call a convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

House Joint Resolution No. 5 proposed an amendment to the Constitution relating to the following topics: (a) improving the fiscal management of the federal government; (b) improving the legislative process of Congress; (c) restraining the powers of the federal government; (d) empowering the legislatures of the several states, with stated exceptions, to repeal all or certain acts of Congress and administrative regulations.

House Joint Resolution No. 7 proposed an amendment to the Constitution of the United States concerning the repeal of the seventeenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the appointment of senators by the legislatures of the several states.

House Joint Resolution No. 9 proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would permit the repeal of a federal law or regulation by the adoption of a resolution by two-thirds of the legislatures of the several states.

Senate Joint Resolution No. 12 proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would provide that an increase in the federal debt requires the approval of a majority of the legislatures of the several states.

Senate Joint Resolution No. 14 proposed an amendment to the Constitution relating to the following topics: (a) improving the fiscal management of the federal government; (b) improving the legislative process of Congress; (c) restraining the powers of the federal government; (d) empowering the legislatures of the several states, with stated exceptions, to repeal all or certain acts of Congress and administrative regulations.

It is fortunate that none of these Resolutions passed the General Assembly because of the threats that a called Convention would pose to the time-tested republican ideals established in our U.S. Constitution.

The content of the five filed General Assembly Resolutions give a hint of the dangerous and unlimited partisan tomfoolery that could arise if a Convention were called by 34 State Legislatures. The visionary provisions in our fabulous U.S. Constitution could be dramatically weakened if partisan politicians were allowed to successfully pass radical Amendments that merely reflect the political passions of the moment.

Listed next are the Founding Fathers who attended the 1787 Constitutional Convention. 

    New Hampshire: John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman.
    Massachusetts: Elbridge Gerry, Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King, Caleb Strong.
    Rhode Island: (no appointment).
    Connecticut: William Samuel Johnson, Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth.
    New York: Robert Yates, Alexander Hamilton, John Lansing.
    New Jersey: David Brearley, William Churchill Houston, William Paterson, William Livingston, Jonathan Dayton.
    Pennsylvania: Thomas Mifflin, Robert Morris, George Clymer, Jared Ingersoll, Thomas Fitzsimons, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, Benjamin Franklin.
    Delaware: George Read, Gunning Bedford, John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, Jacob Broom.
    Maryland: James McHenry, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, Daniel Carroll, John Francis Mercer, Luther Martin.
    Virginia: George Washington, Edmund Randolph, John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, George Wythe, James McClurg.
    Georgia: William Few, Abraham Baldwin, William Pierce, William Houstoun.
    North Carolina: Alexander Martin, William Richardson Davie, Richard Dobbs Spaight, William Blount, Hugh Williamson.
    South Carolina: John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Pierce Butler.

Do we REALLY trust our present dysfunctional U.S. Congress to appoint the delegates to a called Convention? Do we REALLY expect to find Convention delegates within our current crop of public figures with sufficient genius to match that of our Founding Fathers?

We The People would actually have limited input as to whether or not Amendments proposed by a called Convention are ratified. State Legislatures or State Conventions would decide the fate of proposed Amendments. The Amendments would NOT be subject to referendum by all voters within each state. It would be hard for the beliefs of vote-less everyday citizens to compete against the deep-pocketed influence that single-interest groups have in the hallways of our State Legislatures.

We must ABSOLUTELY oppose any future Indiana General Assembly Resolutions that make application to call a Convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. All our elected public servants must abandon any desire they have to use Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as a means to achieve their political ends. Our General Assembly members should not presume they have the wisdom to rewrite our Constitution, and we must insist they focus their leadership efforts on reaching public consensus for their political goals within the current time-tested Constitutional framework.

Currently Proposed Federal Balanced Budget Amendments Pitfall

[NOTE: The "Balanced Budget Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution in House Joint Resolution 2 failed 261-165 on November 18 in the U.S. House of Representatives to get the two-thirds vote needed to be sent to the states for ratification. Three of the reasons why the BBA would have been bad public policy deserve special mention.

1. The super majority three-fifths BBA vote requirements for deficit spending and debt limit increases would have improperly empowered the minority to disproportionally influence federal government outcomes. Our Founding Fathers wisely provided for simple majority votes on all Congressional spending bills to enable the consensus-making process that has long been the foundation of our national greatness.

2. While the BBA would have required three-fifths super majority votes to approve total fiscal year outlays in excess of total fiscal year receipts, it left it up to Congress to define outlays, receipts, and how the three-fifths vote requirement would be triggered. Dozens of Congressional bills each year spend federal dollars. How would Congress identify during any one fiscal year which bills do and do not trigger the super majority vote threshold? Would Congress endlessly tinker with the definitions of outlays and receipts? The BBA would have resulted in a nightmarish parade of lawsuits before the Supreme Court.

3. The BBA would have taken effect no earlier than 2017 and no later than 2020. Congressional minorities would have been emboldened to dangerously delay the effective consensus-making collaboration that our federal elected public servants must promptly undertake to bring our federal deficit threat under control.]

It is anticipated that a significant majority of Watchdogs share a desire to have the federal government return to the balanced budgets of 1998-2001 where annual federal spending did not exceed annual federal revenues. Various elected officials make frequent reference to the desirability of a U.S. Constitution amendment that requires a federal balanced budget like the state balanced budget required by the Indiana Constitution.

Indiana Constitution Article 10 Section 5 reads in its entirety: "No law shall authorize any debt to be contracted, on behalf of the State, except in the following cases: to meet casual deficits in the revenue; to pay the interest on the State Debt; to repel invasion, suppress insurrection, or, if hostilities be threatened, provide for the public defense." What this simply means is that the General Assembly cannot pass an unbalanced budget ("authorize any debt to be contracted") except in a very few circumstances. Section 5 basically states that Indiana has a finite amount of General Fund revenue and cannot go into debt; therefore, those facts indirectly require a balanced budget.

There is nothing at all simple about the currently proposed federal balanced budget amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The following three amendments proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives are typical of the radical approach taken by some who claim to support balanced federal budgets: 
House Joint Resolution 1 - http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hjres1ih/pdf/BILLS-112hjres1ih.pdf
House Joint Resolution 2 - http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hjres2ih/pdf/BILLS-112hjres2ih.pdf
House Joint Resolution 56 - http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hjres56ih/pdf/BILLS-112hjres56ih.pdf.

Several U.S. Congressional Representatives have cosponsored House Joint Resolutions 1, 2, and 56 proposing a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. A balanced budget resolution must be passed by two-thirds of the members of each House of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures to become part of our Constitution.

Reasons often stated for supporting a balanced budget resolution are certainly easy for many of us to understand. They include wanting to stop out-of-control spending in Washington, reducing our national debt, and helping our nation prosper to make sure we leave our children a stronger nation. Some think the constitutional amendment process will allow the American people to have their voices heard and is the best way to force our nation to live within its means.

However, the cosponsored balanced budget resolutions are anything but simple because their provisions would significantly weaken the concept of majority rule that our founding fathers wisely included in our Constitution 224 years ago.

Our Constitution now requires a super majority Congressional vote in only four circumstances. Two-thirds of the Senators present must vote for impeachment convictions, two-thirds votes in both Houses are required to override a presidential veto, a two-thirds vote in the Senate is needed to approve treaties, and two-thirds of both Houses are necessary to propose Constitutional amendments.

The cosponsored resolutions would amend our Constitution to empower the minority by imposing five new super majority requirements in both Houses.

1. Total U.S. government outlays (excluding debt principal repayments) would not exceed total receipts (excluding those derived from borrowing) for any fiscal year unless approved by a two-thirds (or three-fifths) majority.

2. Total outlays for any fiscal year would not exceed 18 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product for the prior calendar year unless approved by a two-thirds majority.

3. Any bill that imposes a new tax, increases the statutory rate of any tax, or increases the aggregate amount of revenue would require a two-thirds majority.

4. The limit on the debt of the United States would not be increased unless approved by a three-fifths majority.

5. The Constitutional requirement that a majority vote of Congress is necessary to declare war is somewhat protected because the balanced budget provisions would be waived by a simple majority vote for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war against a nation-state is in effect. However, a three-fifths vote would be needed to waive the provisions in any fiscal year in which the United States is engaged in a military conflict that causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security.

The following U.S. Constitution amendments have consistently enhanced individual participation in the governance of our great nation.
    AMENDMENT I (1791) – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
    AMENDMENT I (1791) – Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.
    AMENDMENT I (1791) – Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble.
    AMENDMENT I (1791) – Congress shall make no law abridging the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    AMENDMENT XIV (1868) – No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.
    AMENDMENT XIV (1868) – When the right to vote at any federal or state election is denied or in any way abridged to any of the non-criminal 21-year-old male U.S. citizens of a State, the basis of apportioning U.S. Representatives among the States according to population shall be reduced in the State in the proportion which the number of such denied male citizens bear to the number of eligible male citizens in the state.
    AMENDMENT XV (1870) – The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
    AMENDMENT XVII (1913) – The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State elected by the people thereof (instead of being chosen by the State Legislature as provided for in Article I Section 3 of the original U.S. Constitution).
    AMENDMENT XIX (1920) – The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
    AMENDMENT XXIII (1961) – The citizens of the District of Columbia are given the right to vote in Presidential elections.
    AMENDMENT XXIV (1964) – The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any federal election shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
    AMENDMENT XXVI (1971) – The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

The three currently proposed balanced budget amendments, which seek to impose five new super majority requirements in both Houses of Congress related to certain fiscal matters, would dampen the effect of individual influence through our elected U.S. Representatives and Senators.

A good example of how individual influence is diminished by super majority requirements is the section of House Joint Resolution 56 that states "total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year unless two-thirds of the duly chosen and sworn Members of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific excess of outlays over receipts by a roll call vote."

The number of Representatives in the U.S. House is fixed by law at 435 proportionally representing the population of all 50 states. Spending legislation now requires a simple majority, and (when all Representatives are present and voting) 218 votes are needed for passage or defeat. If two-thirds of all 435 Representatives is required for a spending bill, 292 votes would be needed to pass the bill and only 144 votes would be needed to defeat the bill. The two-third super majority requirement makes the No vote more powerful than the Yes vote: being one of 144 to defeat the bill is easier than being one of 292 to pass the bill. Therefore, the voters that elect a Representative who votes No have more influence than those voters who elect a Representative voting Yes.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that all fifty states have two Senators elected directly by the voters. If two-thirds of all 100 Senators is constitutionally required for a spending bill, 67 votes would be needed to pass the bill and only 34 votes would be needed to defeat the bill. The two-third super majority requirement makes the No vote almost twice as more powerful than the Yes vote. Voters from smaller states already exert more per capita influence through their Senators than do voters from larger states. A two-thirds super majority requirement for some federal spending bills could make this per capita disparity more pronounced.

Our Founding Fathers wisely recognized that all spending bills are so important that all our Representatives and Senators should have equally powerful votes. Requiring a simple majority vote to pass federal spending bills properly maximizes the influence of all voters who elect the Representatives and Senators. Super majority voting requirements threaten the time-tested republican ideals established in our U.S. Constitution by unfairly empowering the minority at the expense of the majority!

Opponents thought the federal legislation passed in the 1930’s during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration was a "Raw Deal." Supporters of the legislation called it a "New Deal." The following Opponents vs Supporters comparison is paraphrased from Pages 847-849 of the Fourteenth Edition of The American Pageant: A History of the American People.

    OPPONENTS: Critics charged that "crackpot" college professors, leftist "pinkos," and outright Communists were trying to make America over in the Bolshevik-Marxist image. Lavish benefactions were undermining the old virtues of thrift and initiative. Once self-reliant citizens were getting a bad case of the "gimmies" – their wishbones were becoming larger than their backbones. Hard-pressed workers in the nineteenth century went west and now they went on relief. The New Deal fermented class strife. The laborer and the farmer – especially the big operator – were being pampered. Why "soak the successful"? Businesspeople declared that they could pull themselves out of the depression if they could only get the interventionist big federal government off their backs. Private enterprise was being stifled by "planned economy," "planned bankruptcy," "creeping socialism," and the philosophy "Washington can do it better," with a federal pill for every ill. States’ rights were being ignored, while the government was competing in business with its own citizens, under a "dictatorship of do-gooders."
SUPPORTERS: Admirers claimed that FDR should have been the patron saint of businesspeople because he deflected popular resentments against business and may have saved the American system of free enterprise. Roosevelt’s quarrel was not with capitalism but with capitalists; he purged American capitalism of some of its worst abuses so that it might be saved from itself. He may have even headed off a more radical swing to the left by a mild dose of what was mistakenly reviled as "socialism." Bold reform was provided without a bloody revolution – at a time in history when some foreign nations were suffering armed uprisings and many Europeans were predicting either communism or fascism for America.

    OPPONENTS: New Deal foes pointed out that the promises of budget balancing had flown out the window as the national debt had skyrocketed from $19.487 billion in 1932 to $40.440 billion by 1939. America was becoming a "handout state" trying to squander itself into prosperity – U.S. stood for "unlimited spending." "Bureaucratic meddling" and "regimentation" were also complaints of anti-New Dealers.
SUPPORTERS: The New Deal promoted the philosophy of "balancing the human budget" where the federal government is morally bound to prevent mass hunger and starvation by "managing" the economy. The Washington regime was to be used, not feared. The sensational increase in the national debt was caused by World War II, not the New Deal – the national debt was only $40 billion in 1939 but $258 billion in 1945.

    OPPONENTS: Foes of the New Deal condemned as "alphabet soup" the alleged waste, incompetence, confusion, contradictions, cross-purposes, chiseling, and graft in the alphabetical agencies.
SUPPORTERS: New Dealers pointed out that relief – not economy – had been the primary object of their multifront war on the depression. Conceding that there had been some waste and graft, they argued that it had been trivial in view of the immense sums spent and the obvious need for haste.

    OPPONENTS: The New Deal, afloat in a sea of red ink, had merely administered aspirin, sedatives, and Band-Aids while failing to cure the depression. Despite some $20 billion poured out in six years of deficit spending and lending, of leaf raking and pump priming, the gap was not closed between production and consumption (including the mountainous farm surpluses). Millions of dispirited men and women were still unemployed in 1939 after six years of strain, drain, and pain.
SUPPORTERS: The New Deal relieved the worst of the crisis in 1933. The collapse of America’s economic system was averted, a fairer distribution of the national income was achieved, and the citizens were enabled to regain and retain their self-respect. Many economists came to believe that better results would have been achieved by much greater deficit-spending.

    OPPONENTS: Roosevelt’s aggressive "one-man supergovernment" was denounced, especially his attempts to browbeat the Supreme Court and create a "dummy Congress." Businesspeople who "had met a payroll" thought the leap-before-you-look, try-anything-once approach confused noise and movement with progress.
SUPPORTERS: Demonstrating anew the value of powerful presidential leadership, FDR exercised that power to relieve the erosion of the nation’s greatest physical resource – its people. The do-something approach was appreciated.

    OPPONENTS: Roosevelt was accused of being Jewish ("Rosenfield") and of tapping too many bright young Jewish leftists ("The Jew Deal") for his "Drain Trust."
SUPPORTERS: "Nobody is going to starve" was Roosevelt’s promise.

It is interesting how the differences expressed during the long-past New Deal debate are still being expressed during today’s political controversies. 

One proposed balanced budget amendment is in the identically-worded House Joint Resolution 56 and Senate Joint Resolution 10. The following Letter of Support (paragraphs in italics) for these Resolutions is from the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, which is an advocacy group founded with guidance and support from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. This letter highlights the threats to our U.S. Constitution from amendments that would impose budgetary super majorities as a "back door" attempt to give Congressional minorities the ability to roll back "undesirable" legislation passed by simple majority votes the past eight decades.

Dear Senator Hatch and Congressman Walsh,

On behalf of more than 1.7 million Americans for Prosperity (AFP) activists in all 50 states, I applaud you for proposing a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution that includes a strong limit on total federal spending. Over the past decade or so, it has become increasingly clear that unless there are firm constitutional guardrails to constrain federal spending elected officials are either unable or unwilling to overcome the institutional forces that facilitate endless profligacy. Your proposed amendment seeks to establish those guardrails in a responsible and, hopefully, effective way.

One of the most important provisions in your proposed amendment is a spending cap that would limit federal outlays to 18 percent of GDP. This limitation reflects a proper vision of limited government and the relationship of spending to GDP in the post-WWII period. Additionally, by insisting that spending is restrained in order to balance the budget you guard against the amendment being hijacked and distorted to advance economically-destructive tax increases.

Your amendment also strikes a balance between allowing flexibility for some deficit spending in times of national emergency, while requiring supermajorities in both chambers to do so. This assures citizens that the federal government will only run a deficit when there is a broad consensus that a genuine crisis demands it.

Several other provisions nicely round out your balanced budget amendment. Your insistence on two-thirds majority vote to approve tax increases or spending above 18 percent of GDP is laudable. Your measure to prohibit courts from legislating tax increases from the bench is important and prescient. Finally, a five-year transitionary period from ratification to legal efficacy will give budgeteers enough notice to take meaningful action without the politically-contentious transition that could otherwise be used as a pretext to oppose the amendment.

While it is always difficult to predict how the Judicial Branch will interpret any portion of the Constitution, the mere presence of a balanced budget amendment will serve to compel the tough decision making that is often skirted in today’s federal budget process. It’s time for the federal government to balance its books, and AFP is proud to support your amendment. I urge your colleagues to support its passage and I look forward to working with you in the future.


James Valvo
Director of Government Affairs
Americans for Prosperity

Budgets are the most powerful tools of government. Budgetary purse strings can be used to establish, expand, restrict, or eliminate government programs. Our Founding Fathers wisely created our U.S. Constitution so budgets are passed after public consensus is reached by Congressional simple majorities. HJR 56 and SJR 10 would improperly rewrite our Constitution to require two-third super majorities for deficit spending, spending in excess of 18 percent of estimated Gross Domestic Product, and tax increases. Super majority budget requirements empower the minority of our elected federal public servants to decide the fate of important past and future federal legislation.

According to Historical Tables from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, federal spending exceeded 18.0 percent of GDP in 54 of the 65 years since World War II and every year since 1966 (with a low of 18.2 percent n 2000 and 2001). Some noteworthy legislation passed by the U.S. Congress during the past eight decades is listed next. 

    1933 Federal Securities Act (required promoters to transmit to investors sworn information regarding the soundness of their stocks and bonds).
    1933 Glass-Steagall Banking Reform Act (created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).
    1934 Securities and Exchange Commission authorized to protect the public against stock market fraud, deception, and inside manipulation.
    1934 National Housing Act (authorized the Federal Housing Administration to provide mortgage insurance on loans made by approved lenders).
    1934 Indian Reorganization Act (encouraged tribes to establish local self-government and preserve their native crafts and traditions).
    1935 National Labor Relations Act (created the National Labor Relations Board).
    1935 Social Security Act (provides retiree payments, unemployment insurance, food stamps, disabled assistance, and aid to families with children).
    1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act (regulated control of pyramided layers of big utility businesses to avoid widespread economic collapse).
    1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (regulated maximum-hour levels, minimum-wage levels, and child labor).
    1939 Hatch Act (forbade federal administration officials from active campaigning and using government funds for political purposes).
    1946 Employment Act (created the Council of Economic Advisers to provide the President with recommendations to promote economic growth).
    1947 Taft-Hartley Act (outlawed the "closed" all-union shop).
    1947 National Security Act (created the Department of Defense, National Security Council, and Central Intelligence Agency).
    1953 Department of Health, Education and Welfare created (became the Department of Health and Human Services in 1980).
    1957 Civil Rights Act (set up the Civil Rights Commission to investigate violations of civil rights).
    1958 National Aeronautics and Space Administration established.
    1959 Landrum-Griffin Act (forbade labor union gangsterism, fraud, and brass-knuckles tactics).
    1961 Peace Corps established.
    1962 Trade Expansion Act (authorized tariff cuts to promote trade with European Economic Community countries).
    1964 Civil Rights Act (banned racial and sexual discrimination by employers, schools, and public facilities).
    1965 Department of Transportation created.
    1965 Department of Housing and Urban Development created.
    1965 National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities established.
    1965 Education bill allowed funds to go to parochial institutions by channeling aid to students instead of schools.
    1965 Project Head Start targeted the educational performance of underprivileged youth.
    1965 Medicare (created a medical care entitlement for the elderly).
    1965 Medicaid (created a medical care entitlement for the indigent).
    1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (abolished the "national-origins" quota system).
    1965 Voting Rights Act (outlawed literacy tests).
    1969 Philadelphia Plan required federal contractors to meet minority hiring quotas.
    1970 Environmental Protection Agency created.
    1970 Clean Air Act.
    1970 Occupational Safety and Health Administration created to improve working conditions and prevent work-related accidents and illnesses.
    1972 Title IX prohibited sex discrimination in any federally assisted educational program or activity.
    1973 Endangered Species Act.
    1973 War Powers Act (limited authority of the President to commit and "substantially" enlarge American combat troops in a foreign country).
    1975 Earned Income Tax Credit provided a refundable income tax credit primarily for lower-income individuals and couples with qualifying children.
    1977 Department of Energy created.
    1979 Department of Education Organization Act.
    1981 Tax Reforms lowered individual tax rates, reduced federal estate taxes, and created tax-free savings plans for small investors.
    1989 Department of Veterans Affairs created.
    1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (prohibited discrimination against citizens with physical or mental disabilities).
    1990 Budget bill included $133 billion in new taxes.
    1992 Water Projects bill reformed the subsidized federal water distribution by making more water available to Western cities.
    1993 North American Free Trade Agreement signed (created a free-trade encompassing Mexico, Canada, and the United States).
    1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (required large employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave for pregnancy or a serious medical condition).
    1996 Welfare Reform Bill (cut welfare grants, required able-bodied welfare recipients to find employment, and restricted immigrant welfare benefits).
    1996 Helms-Burton Act (strengthened the trade embargo with Cuba).
    1997 Children’s Health Insurance Program provided matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children.
    2000 China Trade bill normalized U.S. trade relations with China.
    2001 Tax Cuts totaled $1.3 trillion.
    2001 USA Patriot Act (permitted telephone and E-mail surveillance and authorized the detention and deportation of immigrants suspected of terrorism.)
    2002 Department of Homeland Security created.
    2002 No Child Left Behind Act (mandated sanctions against schools that failed to meet federal performance standards).
    2009 Tobacco Tax bill raised the federal tobacco tax 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes.
    2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (combined tax breaks with spending on infrastructure, welfare benefits extension, and education).
    2009 Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act (enhanced enforcement of financial institutions, mortgage, securities, and commodities fraud laws).
    2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (reformed the private health insurance industry and public health insurance programs).
    2010 Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (addressed health care reform and student loan reform).
    2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (improved financial system transparency and ended "too big to fail bailouts").
    2010 Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act (extended "Bush tax cuts" 2 years, reduced FICA payroll tax 1 year).
    2011 Budget Control Act (created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and required a Congressional balanced budget amendment vote).

Do we really want budgetary super majorities as part our Constitution to give a minority of our Congressional members the power to control federal priorities? Decisions on important past and future federal legislation should only be reached by having public debates that are influential enough to win majority votes in Congress.

Another particularly disturbing section of HJR 56 and SJR 10 provides that "No court of the United States or of any State shall order any increase in revenue to enforce this article." It would be a dangerous precedent to weaken the separation of powers by amending our U.S. Constitution to include any restriction on the Supreme Court that is originated by the Congress.

Another problem is the HJR 56 and SJR 10 section where a Congressional simple majority vote could waive the super majority budget requirements for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war against a nation-state is in effect. What this means is that an annual declaration of war would be required because it is likely that deficit spending will be necessary if we are at war. It is not hard to imagine the foreign policy difficulties that could arise if Congress were required to conduct a high-profile divisive debate each and every year regarding the wisdom of continuing to fund a war.

The AFP contends "the mere presence of a balanced budget amendment will serve to compel the tough decision making that is often skirted in today’s federal budget process." Just the opposite is true! A balanced budget amendment requiring budgetary super majorities would embolden the minority to repudiate the consensus-making process that is required to achieve the support of a simple majority. Super majority requirements would undermine the concept of majority rule that helps make America great.

The U.S. Representatives and Senators cosponsoring the balanced budget resolutions need to explain why their support for fundamental changes to the U.S. Constitution is more than political posturing. We must beware their simplistic rhetoric and insist they fully explain why their beliefs are better than those of our Founding Fathers. 

It is vitally important that our federal government return to the balanced budgets of 1998-2001 where annual federal spending did not exceed annual federal revenues. However, it is also crucially important that our U.S. Representatives and Senators do NOT diminish individual voter influence by improperly empowering Congressional minorities through U.S. Constitution amendments that require super majorities. Our elected public servants should not presume they have the wisdom to rewrite our Constitution, and we must insist they focus their leadership efforts on balancing our federal budget within the current simple-majority Constitutional framework.

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This page was last updated on 11/21/11.