Friday, March 3, 2017

Call for a Constitutional Convention a Distraction

If you thought it was only Donald Trump who lived in his own universe using alternate facts think again. It seems or dear Governor, Greg Abbott, does too. Knowing full well that the state budget is once again in crisis due to a significant drop in oil and natural gas prices and therefore production, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has already informed the legislature it will have $3 billion dollars less to spend over the next two years than it did in the last two. Rather than allowing the legislature to focus on state budget issues Abbott has designated a call for a federal Constitutional Convention as an “emergency” item on the agenda, requiring it to be put in the front of the line for hearings and action.

Abbott’s collaborator in the Senate is Brian Birdwell of Granbury and the bill he filed is SJR 2. The bill calls for an Article V convention "for the limited purpose of proposing one or more amendments to the constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and to limit the terms of office of federal officials and members of Congress."

The first problem with this whole notion is that there is nothing in the Constitution that says a convention can be limited to certain topics. In fact the last time there was a Constitutional Convention was in 1787 and they threw out the Articles of Confederation and drafted a whole new Constitution. Given the current high level of polarization of today’s political climate and the big money thrown around by lobbyists it’s not hard to imagine a runaway convention controlled by multi-national corporations. And don’t think, “Well, 38 states would still have to approve any amendments from convention” because there’s nothing stopping a convention from rewriting the rules of ratification while they’re at it.

Just for the sake of argument let’s assume the convention doesn’t get out of hand and rewrite the constitution to resemble a corporate charter. Abbott’s call for imposition of fiscal restraints, is in other words a call for a balanced budget amendment. Even Richard Nixon, who famously said “We’re all Keynesians now”, understood that in times of an economic slump it is the job of the federal government to stimulate the economy through deficit spending. Had Abbott’s balanced budget amendment been in effect in the 1930’s there’s no telling how much worse the Great Depression would have gotten. We’ve had varying degrees of economic downturns over the last 80 years including the one in 2007 precipitated by the bursting housing bubble and each time to greater or lesser degree the federal government has used deficit spending to mitigate the damage. Are you really prepared to accept the consequences of the next economic downturn without the option of federal intervention? Herbert Hoover was and look where that got him and our nation.

In addition to wrecking the economy Abbott seeks to put a crimp in regulatory power of the federal government by removing the power to write and enforce laws. Were we really better off before Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency? Did you watch coverage of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 showing the smog so bad people had to wear masks over their mouth and nose? That’s what happens with we don’t have nationwide environmental protections.

What of civil rights law, or food and drug safety?

In essence Abbott is calling for restoration of the failed Articles of Confederation. If they didn’t work back in 1787 what makes Abbott think they’ll work now?

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