Much has been made about the ideological calcification of the Louisiana Legislature, a hardening most evident in the three grueling legislative sessions that began back in February as a new Democratic governor commenced his awkward waltz with flat-footed, hard-right House Republicans. See Pearson Cross’s column for a summary. Increasingly our Legislature mimics a do-nothing Congress paralyzed by partisanship.
But the most ideological event over the four-month slog happened during the regular session, and it got little press coverage: lawmakers in May signed off on Senate Concurrent Resolution 52 calling for a U.S. constitutional convention “for the purpose of proposing amendments to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, impose fiscal restraints upon its activities, and limit the terms of office that may be served...”
SCR 52 is just a resolution — symbolic in broad strokes — but it’s terrible policy in service of ideological bona fides. It represents a trend by GOP-controlled legislatures around the country that could trigger a never-used means of constitutional amendment. (Heretofore, all 27 amendments to the Constitution going back to the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791 have relied on a second method; it’s a bit complicated, but trust me, what’s being pushed now has never been done before, ever, in the history of our republic.)
If 34 of the states file petitions like SCR 52 to Congress, it could in theory pave the way for that constitutional convention, and by my most recent tally 28 states have now petitioned Congress. That’s close to possibly — again, so much of this is theoretical be cause it’s never been done before — setting in motion what could become an American Brexit: symbolism driven by scare tactics and ideology with sobering, long-term consequences. So let’s unpack that “for the purpose of” phrase cited above.
I’ve long been keen on the idea that elections themselves impose term limits: If you’re ineffective you get voted out. But the cancer of money in politics allows even bad lawmakers to serve decades for no other reason than a fat wallet and the cronyism it engenders.
It’s the other two aims of the resolution — “to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government [and] impose fiscal restraints upon its activities” — that should cause chills.
In January Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, a rabid social conservative, urged lawmakers on the other side of the Sabine River to pass a similar resolution to limit the power of the federal government through an amendment that would require a supermajority of the Supreme Court — seven of nine justices — to invalidate a state law (according to U.S. News & World Report). Why? To let stand anti-LGBT and anti-abortion laws passed in red states of course.
The final piece, imposing “fiscal restraints,” is the most pernicious. Its aim is a balanced budget amendment, which many economists — including some with Nobel Prizes and history on their side — agree would be disastrous during a recession, triggering devastating cuts to federal safety-net programs. But that’s the ultimate goal. Louisiana has a balanced budget amendment. Look where it’s gotten us.
Indeed, $19 trillion in federal debt is concerning and something has to be done, but it can be managed over time with bipartisan cooperation and common sense. Stop laughing.
The real goal of a balanced budget amendment is the end of Social Security, Medicare and other social safety-net programs that the financier wing of the Republican Party has vilified as socialism since FDR and the New Deal. They just don’t quit. Yet opponents of the safety net no longer talk of its destruction — the programs are too popular with Americans of all political stripes — so they talk about “reform.”
But just as our state, with its balanced budget amendment, has eviscerated higher education and health care for the poor, so too would a federal balanced budget amendment destroy much we cherish in common, and it floats on the fallacious notion that raising the yacht uplifts the dinghy.