"Our federal government is broken.” A phrase once considered trite or cliché is now accepted as true. The current government shutdown is only the latest confirmation of that truth. Even if the current impasse over a border wall were resolved, the structural and operational problems with the federal government would persist and result in further shutdowns. This past week, Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Mike Lee and political columnists Pignanelli and Webb all offered solutions to the problem, but all fall short of the required action.
Gov. Herbert accurately observed that “the problem is deeper than a disagreement over immigration or health care or the debt ceiling.” The long-term solution is “the return to a robust federalism that leaves more policymaking power to the states.” He persuasively argued that state governments are more efficient, effective and accountable.
Sen. Lee admitted that “Congress is failing the American people. … (W)e are all just sitting around waiting for some game-changing event to set things in motion.” His solution for the shutdown is to “do the hard work of voting” to get both sides on record of where they stand. He offers no long-term solution for federal government dysfunction.
Pignanelli and Webb agree that “(o)ur national government is in chaos,” acknowledging that: “Congress is in gridlock,” “both parties are contributing to massive national debt,” “the federal government is a disaster” and because of the Senate filibuster rule, Congress “can’t govern.” Their proposed solutions: more reliance on social media, “(e)liminate the filibuster,” “impose term limits” and “restore balanced federalism” by “devolv(ing) much of what the federal government does to the states.”
All of these observations are correct, but none solves the problem of a broken, bloated, dysfunctional and debt-ridden federal government. Despite all our wishful thinking and waiting and hopeful demands, the federal government will never fix itself, and it will never voluntarily relinquish power back to the states. As Alexander Hamilton observed in Federalist 28, the only solution for usurpation or misuse of government power is the constitutional check of a “rival power.” “State governments will … afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority. … The legislatures … can discover the danger at a distance; and possessing all the organs of civil power … they can at once adopt a regular plan of opposition. … They can readily communicate with each other in the different States, and unite their common forces for the protection of their common liberty.” Madison agreed that the ultimate power to control excesses or dysfunction of the federal government rests with the states.
Our founders foresaw the risk of an oversized and over-powerful federal government that would be unwilling or unable to restrain or correct itself. They provided a remedy in Article V of the Constitution for the states to call a convention to “communicate with each other” and propose possible amendments to check federal power, correct federal dysfunction, and restore proper powers to the states. Such amendments could include: 1) budgetary constraints and procedures to ensure continued operation of the government under a balanced budget; 2) elimination of the Senate filibuster and other rules that produce congressional gridlock; 3) return of certain functions to the states, such as education and health care; 4) limitations on federal jurisdiction and regulation; 5) state authority, two-thirds concurring, to override unjust or unworkable federal laws; 6) limitation of terms for federal officials and judges; or 7) more equitable and efficient taxation; and so forth. Any amendment approved in a convention of states would still have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states before becoming law, as for amendments proposed by Congress. With this power available to the states, observed Hamilton in Federalist 85, “We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.”
The states created the federal government, with clearly defined powers and functions. Our compound republic has worked relatively well, with fits and starts, for over 230 years, but the federal government is now in dire need of repair and retrenchment. It is time for the states to come together to fulfill their constitutional function and duty to restore and steady the federal ship of state. The action plan is clear: The Utah Legislature in the coming session must adopt a resolution calling for a convention of states. Utah would become the 13th of the required thirty-four states to call for such a convention. We are not talking about a “constitutional convention” to replace the Constitution — we are calling for a convention of states to rescue the federal government. Nor is this a partisan or geographical concern — all Americans in every state have an interest in a strong, viable federal government functioning within its prescribed powers.8 comments on this story
Next, we need the leadership of Gov. Herbert and our federal delegation, as well as the support of the people of Utah, to encourage other states to join this call for a convention of states. In fact, Gov. Herbert, with his positions of leadership among the nation’s governors, may be considered to lead our Utah delegation in a convention of states. The time to act is now. We must not neglect nor fear the constitutional remedy provided by our founders for the very problem we now face, and which they foresaw. If we fail to act and use this remedy, our founders — and our posterity — will hold us accountable.