The good in Governor Greg Abbott’s constitutional amendments
posted at 6:31 pm on January 10, 2016 by Taylor Millard
There are some really good things in Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s proposed nine new amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Ed’s given some thought on it, but there’s a ton to unpack on this. The push for an Article V convention has been getting a lot of support, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio endorsing it in USA Today. But Abbott took it a step further by actually making suggestions on what he thinks should be added to the Constitution. One thing which was really important in Abbott’s “Restoring The Rule Of Law” proposal is the governor’s belief the Constitution, as it is, is far from broken, but needs some fixing.
What is broken is our Nation’s willingness to obey the Constitution and to hold our leaders accountable to it. As explained in the following pages, all three branches of the federal government have wandered far from the roles that the Constitution sets out for them. For various reasons, “We the People” have allowed all three branches of government to get away with it. And with each power grab the next somehow seems less objectionable. When measured by how far we have strayed from the Constitution we originally agreed to, the government’s flagrant and repeated violations of the rule of law amount to a wholesale abdication of the Constitution’s design.
Abbott’s The Texas Plan is a mix of populism and intellectualism, which keeps him from going into the “crackpot” category. Abbott is an extremely smart guy who knows how important it is to propose actual solutions instead of just railing against government. His delivery can be as sharp as Ted Cruz, but also as substantive as Rand Paul or Utah Senator Mike Lee. Abbott’s speech at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (which is a very well-respected institution in Texas) proves he knew it was important to show this was a serious plan and not done to just raise money for his next campaign. The fact he was willing to put together a 92 page document (with footnotes) shows Abbott wants this plan to be seriously considered. The substance of Abbott’s proposal shows his willingness to put forth a plan he believes will limit the federal government’s overreach. The other thing which is great is Abbott’s willingness to say, “Hey, look this over, and let me know what you think.” It means Abbott will listen to criticisms of his proposal (which I will do in another post).
One of the best proposed amendments is Abbott’s desire to require Congress to balance its budget. Federal spending is out of control and the almost $19T in debt makes me shudder. If state governments are required to balance their budgets why can’t the federal government be required to balance its budget? The only way the U.S. is going to reduce its debt is to be willing to stop the leviathan and fight it like Perseus does the serpent Cetus or Thor’s final battle with Jormangandr. Abbott believes The Texas Plan would end up requiring Congress to do something it doesn’t want to do, by cutting spending (emphasis mine).
If Congress failed to meet its balanced-budget obligations, the Texas Plan would automatically freeze all federal spending (except for payments on outstanding debt) at 90% of the preceding year’s levels.
The Texas Plan also would specify how Congress must balance its budget— namely, by cutting spending. After all, the federal government already takes 18% of the Nation’s GDP in the form of taxes; there is no justification for taking even more of today’s earnings to pay for yesterday’s excesses. Therefore, the Texas Plan would prohibit Congress from taxing its way to a balanced budget. In particular, the Texas Plan would freeze the federal government’s income as a proportion of GDP at today’s 18% level.
Abbott’s inclusion of the prohibiting Congress from raising taxes is the key factor in this proposal. The federal government decided to raise taxes in 1990 because it didn’t want to cut spending. Abbott saying his plan would keep the government from raising taxes to balance the budget is fantastic. The only concern is Abbott adding, “The only exception would be for a national emergency, like a war or national-security crisis.” The federal government could use the “national emergency” phrase as a way to increase spending, and never stop. But this definitely adds financial discipline on D.C. and it’s fantastic Abbott wants a balanced budget.
The other great parts of Abbott’s proposal are the restrictions on administrative agencies. The governor is absolutely correct in saying agencies like the IRS, EPA, and HHS are out of control. There are far too many government agencies, and they need to be cut back as a way to decrease spending. Alphabet agency regulations are a way for Congress and the President to shirk responsibility by saying, “Well we had nothing to do with it,” when in reality, they had EVERYTHING to do with it by allowing the agency to exist (or be funded) at all. Abbott believes a constitutional amendment would put the onus back on Congress and the President to do policy.
The Texas Plan would revert the lawmaking process to the one enshrined in the Constitution. Under current law, administrative actions like the Clean Power Plan have legal force unless they are rejected by Congress or the courts. By contrast, under the Texas Plan, administrative actions like the EPA’s would have no binding legal force unless they are approved by Congress. The Texas Plan thus prevents Congress from delegating its lawmaking powers to administrative agencies and from deputizing bureaucrats as law-writers. By elevating the Constitution’s lawmaking procedures over the administrative convenience of theorists like Landis, the Texas Plan vindicates the rule of law.
It’s also great Abbott wants to keep federal agencies from getting involved in state issues. He uses the awesome example of Diane Monson, a California woman who was growing her own medical marijuana for her own use, who ended up having all SIX of her marijuana plants destroyed following a DEA standoff. The Texas Plan may keep situations like the Bundy ranch or the situation with the Hammonds in Oregon from ever happening. It’s an example of fighting against the leviathan of government and allowing people to do what they want to do as long as they aren’t hurting, killing, or stealing from anyone. It would also keep Congress from passing laws they have no business passing, and allowing states to regulate certain things as they see fit. This would also tie into the balanced budget amendment, because it would mean the federal government would have to gut itself if they aren’t allowed to regulate things in the states. It would force the federal government to focus only on a limited amount of items, including national defense and border security, and not much else. Social Security, Department of Education, and Medicare/Medicaid would probably still exist, but Abbott may be hoping for a more “block grant” federal policy. It’s not a bad idea, as long as Congress is willing to be fiscally sound.
Abbott’s proposal isn’t a cure-all and some of his ideas may end up limiting freedom more than helping it (more on that later). But it’s a good start if people and states are actually willing to take a serious look at it. It’s also important to remember this might not go anywhere anyway. In fact, it would be almost unheard of if it did. The Federal Register points out none of the current amendments have ever been done by a constitutional convention. This means Abbott and those who support him have their work cut out for them. There may be 27 states (according to The Blaze) which are willing to do an Article V convention for a balanced federal budget, but 34 are needed. It will be interesting to see if Abbott’s proposal will push the needle even further towards it happening.