By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
An Age Old Pandora’s Box
This week the Senate took up Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 21. Long story short, this is a provision to do something we haven’t done for 230 years in this country… hold a Constitutional Convention. Ok, maybe the story isn’t that short, but here’s my best shot at it. The Articles of Confederation was the original written document that established the functions of the national government of the United States, after it declared independence from Great Britain. In 1787, a Convention was convened to revise the Articles of Confederation. However many of its organizers like, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton knew they were planning to create a new government. And that is exactly what happened, when the delegates took the mandate to fix the Articles of Confederation and ran off with it. It resulted in the writing of the U.S. Constitution.
It was also during this convention that enslaved Africans were determined to be 3/5 of a person for the purposes Congressional representation and taxation. The now infamous “Three- Fifths Compromise” was adopted by the Convention. Therefore imagine my trepidation, as the Republican controlled legislature advanced a vote to convene an Article V convention to propose a singular amendment requiring that the federal government have a balanced budget each year.
The argument advanced by supporters is that if American families have to balance their checkbooks each year, so should the federal government. But that is a flawed argument, that doesn’t reflect the “real world” for most families. Most homeowners borrow money to pay for their home, car, and their child’s college tuition. They do not have revenues that match expenses. Much like Wisconsin borrows money to pay for roads, with millions of dollars in new bonding every budget.
In demanding a balanced budget, how do we address national emergencies like the attacks on 9/11, the loss of more than 3,000 lives, payouts to victims/survivors of the attack, and the continuing War on Terror? That war almost doubled annual military spending, from $437 billion in 2003 to $855 billion in 2011. What do you do, when in the span of 4 weeks you have catastrophic damage like Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria costing the US hundreds of billions of dollars? Additionally, programs like Social Security, Medicare Part A, and military and civil service retirement programs could be negatively affected.
I applaud the desire to get our nation’s financial house in order, but at what cost? A constitutional convention is a slippery slope that both liberals and conservatives have discussed to ban abortion, forbid gay marriage, prohibit the burning or desecration of the American flag, permit organized prayer in school, enable states to repeal federal laws, protect the rights of crime victims, overturn Citizens United, place term limits for lawmakers and Supreme Court justices, limit executive orders and given the Las Vegas tragedy and Sunday’s shooting in Texas, limit or repeal the 2nd Amendment.
I agree that rules that govern a society may need to be adjusted to reflect a change in culture, systemic discrimination, or bias. But I disagree that opening this Pandora ’s Box, is the way to get it done.