Gov. Greg Abbott wants Texas to lead the call for a constitutional convention to amend the U. S. Constitution in the interest of states’ rights and he is not without details, having released a 70-page plan, which if nothing else is a great teaching guide in American civics, that outlines nine proposed amendments that would roll back the half century or more federal power grab and return the country to its constitutional roots in a balanced federalism.
Of course, this is a great idea, and if he were czar for a day, I would love to see him pull it off. But it obviously represents a gargantuan task with overwhelming odds stacked against it, and I am not aware of anyone who thinks it is possible in any timely fashion. I do believe that it has significant value, however, in sparking a national conversation on the long overdue need to restore the founding principles to our governing structure.
One of the things that immediately occurred to me when I first read of his plan is that most of the problem he is addressing, if you think about it, has been facilitated if not directly caused by a dereliction of duty by the U. S. Congress over the years, either by abdicating their constitutional responsibilities and/or deferring critical issues to the jurisdiction of an imperial judiciary. So if Congress were to begin to restore itself to its proper constitutional role, many of the issues Gov. Abbott is addressing could be resolved without a constitutional convention.
It happens that Christopher DeMuth, Distinguished Fellow of the Hudson Institute, has offered some suggestions along these lines in a speech delivered in September 2015 at Hillsdale College entitled “Reviving a Constitutional Congress”. To begin, he suggests that our system of government depends on a reasonable balance of power among the three branches, and we are losing that balance with a dramatic power shift over the past several decades, primarily to the executive branch, but also to the judiciary. And, as I have suggested, a large part of this drift is the relinquishment of its powers voluntarily, by its abdication to the other two branches and by delegating broad policy-making authority to a plethora of commissions and agencies of the executive branch. The result has been a violation of the balance of powers foundation of the founders’ design which has had the effect of violating states’ rights as well through the undermining of our system of federalism.
To begin the constitutional restoration, DeMuth has a five step plan, highlighted as follows:
- Congress should retrieve the taxing, spending, and borrowing powers it has delegated to executive agencies and place all agencies on annual appropriations regardless of their sources of revenues.
- Congress should exercise its appropriations power under the procedures of the Budget Act of 1974, passing individual appropriation bills on a regular basis.
- Congress should relearn the arts of legislating by recovering many of the lawmaking powers it has handed off to the regulatory agencies. This will require a return to “regular order”, strong leadership, and tough choices, but it must be done.
- Congress should reconstruct an internal policymaking hierarchy that was dismantled for good reason in the 1960s and 1970s as overly obstructionist. This reconstruction should feature a strong meritocracy that complements partisanship, but emphasizes mastery of policy fields and skills in negotiation, with leadership accountable for results.
- The Senate should cut back to near abolition the “filibuster” and the “hold”, both of which have become frequent, costless, and routinely employed.
Needless to say, there has not been a rush to sign on to his plan, for all the obvious reasons, but I believe it is a great first, if very difficult, step toward restoring constitutional governance of the type our founders intended and would move us toward the objectives that Gov. Abbott has in mind without the need for constitutional amendment. In fact, if we don’t soon advance something close to this level of comprehensive Congressional reform, our republic is headed for some severe damage.