Publius Speaks

Publius Speaks
Become A Follower

Sunday, June 20, 2010

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS –the only way to real reform!

It’s time to get serious about amending the Constitution of the United States.  Even the Tea baggers’ “Contract From America” agrees with that to some extent!  And - surprise, surprise - I agree with them, to some extent!  Unfortunately, we probably don’t agree on the wording or intent of the needed amendments.

One of the myths we must get beyond is the idea that the Constitution is sacrosanct.  It’s not and never has been.  Yes, the writers - the founding fathers - did a great job in turning out an instrument that contained unique and even revolutionary concepts.  We should always honor that.  However, we have to admit when the Constitution is inadequate, and it is becoming clear that it is inadequate to speak to some of the issues that have come to the forefront in the 20th and 21st centuries, such as campaign finance, earmarks, balanced budget, use of federal funds, term limits, etc.  All of these, and others, are inadequately addressed in the Constitution as presently constructed.  Instead of hoping for the best, or believing that Congress will legislate campaign reforms that actually threaten their livelihoods, we must take the plunge and begin to propose actual constitutional amendments to deal with these unresolved issues.  A movement (organization) called Common Cause was formed to deal specifically with the  issue of campaign finance.  After 40 years, they have brought little change that can said to be revolutionary, although they have influenced some reforms.  It is not something that can be addressed adequately by piecemeal legislation but must be written into the fabric of our democratic system by an amendment to our Constitution.

Of course, the language I have proposed for each amendment is my own.  It has not been “vetted” by any lawyer, nor has anyone else contributed their ideas.  With that in mind, I concede that some wording may be poorly done for an amendment to our Constitution.  Some wording may also lead to “loopholes” that I did not foresee but which might be taken advantage of by some who are always seeking for a way around the law so they can profit in some manner.  But, in all cases, I have at least made clear my intent through the comments attached to each proposed amendment.

All of my proposed amendments are in CAPITAL letters, and all of my comments are in Italics.  So, let’s get started, and let the chips fall where they may.

Article I, Section 2
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every THIRD 
second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each 
State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature. TERM OF OFFICE FOR MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES  SHALL BE LIMITED TO FOUR FULL TERMS OR A CUMULATIVE TOTAL OF TWELVE YEARS.

Comment: three years gives representatives space to work on legislating rather than always raising money and campaigning.  A limit of 4 such terms seems reasonable for the representatives in the “people’s” House.  Let more ordinary citizens have a chance at service; we don’t need “professional” representatives who have had little experience in other fields.

Article I, Section 3
    The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof for six Years, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.  NO PERSON SHALL BE ELECTED TO THE OFFICE OF SENATOR FOR MORE THAN THREE FULL TERMS OR A CUMULATIVE TOTAL OF18 YEARS.

Comment: Senators should continue to have longer terms than representatives, because they do generally reflect a more deliberative body, and a more experienced background in the legislative and political process.  Nonetheless, they should not be able to mount a career in politics at the expense, often, of the people.  Eighteen years in the Senate is a reasonable limit and should prevent the kind of stagnation that has often occurred with “Senators for Life”.

AMENDMENT XXVIII:
ALL CAMPAIGNS FOR FEDERAL ELECTIVE OFFICE SHALL BE ENTIRELY FUNDED BY FUNDS DRAWN FROM THE TREASURY IN CONSEQUENCE OF APPROPRIATIONS MADE BY LAW, AND BY INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN CONTRIBUTIONS, BUT MAY NOT BE FUNDED BY ANY CORPORATE OR ORGANIZED ENTITY.  CONGRESS SHALL SET PRUDENT AND REASONABLE LIMITATIONS FOR SUCH GOVERNMENTAL AND INDIVIDUAL     CONTRIBUTIONS, AND SHALL PRESCRIBE MAXIMUM LIMITS FOR EXPENDITURES ALLOWED FOR EACH CONTESTED OFFICE.  ALL STATE GOVERNMENTS SHALL MAKE SIMILAR CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION FOR    GOVERNMENTAL AND INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN     SUPPORT FOR ALL STATE AND LOCAL ELECTIONS, EXCLUDING CORPORATE OR ORGANIZED CONTRIBUTIONS IN ANY FORM, AND SETTING MAXIMUM LIMITS FOR     EXPENDITURES FOR EACH CONTEST.

Comment: we must limit the control exercised by corporations and unions over our elections; we must also undo the outrageous decision by the Supreme Court to introduce the concept of protected “political speech” rights for corporations and organized groups who already unduly influence our elections.  It is past time to enforce limited government funding and individual citizen contributions in our electoral process.  We must also get rid of the concept of PACs which was simply a way to get around public financing.  Citizenship must be meaningful, and the electoral process is one way in which citizenship is enhanced.  We cannot continue to let organized special-interest entities rob us of our right to fair and just elections.

Article I, Section 5
NEITHER HOUSE SHALL MAKE ANY RULE OR PROVISION THAT ALLOWS FOR OTHER THAN A MAJORITY VOTE ON LAWS, RULES OF ORDER, PROCEEDINGS, OR PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES, EXCEPT AS ALLOWED BY THIS CONSTITUTION.

Comment: the cloture rule, and the Senate provision for filibustering, are abominations; they tie up the legislative process, too often exploit it for political gain,  for personal aggrandizement, or for the killing of legislation that should instead be thoroughly debated and voted up or down by majority vote. It is time to over-throw these ill-conceived rules that give tyrannical rights to a minority.

CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO PROVISION IN ANY BILL THAT APPROPRIATES FUNDS TO AN INDIVIDUAL, ORGANIZED ENTITY, CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT OR STATE WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF 2/3s OF EACH HOUSE.

Comment: earmarks, and other budgetary maneuverings that seek tax-payer dollars for limited and many non-essential projects in one district or state, are not appropriate without strong support in both houses; support that is equal to the vote needed to over-ride a presidential veto.  We have managed to overlook this perverted pork-barrel process for too long, even though it has brought us to a situation where our dollars are being spent frivolously and with little regard to budgetary debt or deficit.  It has to stop.   

Article I, Section 6
NO SENATOR OR REPRESENTATIVE SHALL, FOR THE DURATION OF FIVE YEARS AFTER LEAVING ELECTIVE OFFICE, BE ALLOWED TO ACCEPT A PAID POSITION WITH, OR BE ALLOWED TO ADVOCATE PARTICULAR LEGISLATION FOR, ANY ORGANIZATION, ASSOCIATION, CORPORATION, UNION, OR OTHER ENTITY WITH WHICH THE OFFICE-HOLDER HAD A PRIOR LEGISLATIVE RELATIONSHIP OR MUTUAL AREA OF INTEREST.  THIS RESTRICTION SHALL EXTEND IN FULL TO ALL APPOINTED MEMBERS OF THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH OF THIS GOVERNMENT.  

Comment: the “revolving door” that professional politicians use to line their pockets after their political careers are over, needs to be controlled. Representatives,or Executive appointees, who take jobs or positions with employers who were previously beholden to them for “helpful” legislation or attention should have to find other means of support for a period of time like any citizen who changes jobs. Special Privileges or Rewards for legislators and bureaucrats after they are rejected by voters, or leave of their own accord, is not appropriate for our representative democracy. 

NO SENATOR OR REPRESENTATIVE SHALL ACCEPT OR RECEIVE COMPENSATION,     SPECIAL PRIVILEGE, EMOLUMENT, GIFT OR ANY FORM OF CONTRIBUTION FROM ANY INDIVIDUAL, ORGANIZATION OR SPECIAL INTEREST ENTITY THAT COULD DIRECTLY BENEFIT FROM THE OUTCOME OF PARTICULAR LEGISLATION, OF AN OVERSIGHT FUNCTION, OR OF A COMMITTEE PROCESS.

Comment: it is time to outlaw all contributions to legislators from corporate entities that seek to influence legislation.  No matter how used, it is “dirty” money meant to influence legislation that is favorable to one group or another without regard to the effects on other citizens or groups.  This is a form of privilege, for it gives access to legislators that not all citizens possess.  It must be stopped in its tracks now, or our democratic system will be in serious jeopardy.

Article I, Section 8

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises 
shall be uniform throughout the United States; PROVIDING, THAT ALL NEW TAXES SHALL REQUIRE A 2/3s VOTE OF EACH HOUSE TO BECOME LAW

Comments: the tea party “Contract From America” has a point here, I think.  Taxes are so important to the operations of our government that new taxes should not be levied without strong support in each house.  Taxes are so burdensome now that this is incredibly timely.  Control of this process is long overdue.

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.  HOWEVER, CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAWS THAT EXEMPT CONGRESS OR ITS MEMBERS FROM APPLICATION OF THE PROVISIONS OF ANY AND ALL SUCH LAWS. 

Comments: the concept of no special privilege for any of our leaders is embedded in our constitution for a very good reason: the founding fathers wanted a more equalitarian system that would not set up privileged classes similar to those that were prevalent in England.  We have to be particularly sensitive to the concept of privilege because we have inherited a system of government that has kept alive the concepts of fairness, of equality, of justice, of freedom for all; often kept alive with the sacrifice of lives and fortunes of patriots and warriors and ordinary citizens.  We must attack privilege-making wherever we suspect its harmful intent.  Congress has no right to set itself up as a privileged few exempt from laws that apply to the rest of the people.

Article I, Section 9

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of  Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the  Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time 
to time,
INCLUDING THE AUDITING OR EVALUATION BY GROUPS OF PRIVATE CITIZENS     APPOINTED JOINTLY BY THE CONGRESS AND THE EXECUTIVE, OF ALL FEDERAL FUNDS CONTRACTED, GRANTED, APPROPRIATED, OR LOANED TO ANY AGENCY, ORGANIZATION, CONTRACTOR, STATE OR COUNTRY.  THE RESULTING ACCOUNTING OF EXPENDITURES SHALL INCLUDE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OR AGAINST CONTINUED FUNDING.

Comment: In their “Contract From America,” the tea partiers speak of an audit of federal funds.  I agree that we need it, but I take it a lot further, I think, in allowing for an evaluation by an outside group, and by calling for auditing of funds, however they are let out to groups, or countries, along with recommendations for future funding based on the audit.  It is far past time to stop the free handouts, and to demand accountability when federal dollars (taxpayer money) are given out to any entity.  On a personal note, as a former project director of a federally-funded program, I was responsible for how funds (that were meager in comparison with large government contracts) were expended in specific categories, for quarterly reporting of actions taken to meet goals and objectives connected to that money, and for an annual assessment of program progress that was done by a volunteer member Advisory Council; all of which were considered in relation to the next year’s funding.  I resent the fact that there are recipients of much greater sums of federal money who have no such obligation or accountability process.  It’s time that all recipients of citizen taxes had to account for their actions and outcomes or lose their funding.

Article II, Section 1

No Person except a natural born Citizen, OR A NATURALIZED CITIZEN, of the United 
States (at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution,) shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible 
to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

Comments: this is a nation of immigrants, and part of our strength is related to that fact.  Allowing only native-born citizens to hold this office sets up a special privilege that is not appropriate in a nation that prides itself on being a democracy and an example to other nations.

Article III, Section 1

The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, BUT SHALL NOT SERVE FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS

Comments: I find little merit in a life-long appointment to the Supreme Court or to inferior courts.  This is a form of special privilege that does not particularly enhance this branch of government.  Since most justices receive appointment after some experience, either on the bench, or in related occupation, it makes sense that the wisdom of age or experience is not at issue here.  But a justice appointed at say age 60, should be able to influence the Court to some degree in the 20 years allowed here.  In fact, this could be the most valuable 20 years that person has to offer.  New opinions, new views, new experiences, are valuable and should be sought from others once a person has served this many years.

Article V

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, OR ON PETITION OF AT LEAST ONE-HALF OF THE POPULATION OF THE SEVERAL STATES, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified

Comments: amendment by the Congress and the calling of a constitutional convention by application from the States is provided for, but the calling of such a convention by the people is ignored.  It is time to make provision for this important branch of government to have an equal say in this process, particularly since the average citizen has much more education and political experience and involvement than at any other time in our history.  In fact, many citizens have more ability, life experience, and education than do some of those who claim to represent us in the Congress!