Former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker will be a featured panelist at the NHJournal FITN Debt and Deficits Roundtable on Friday, January 12. Click here for details.
The federal government is not operating consistently with the Constitution and the Founders’ intent. Their intent is captured in the words of the preamble to the Constitution, augmented by the 10th Amendment and the wise words of George Washington. The preamble of the Constitution states:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and be I establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
“We the People” recognizes who the Constitution is for and who is ultimately responsible for what our representatives do or fail to do in connection with the Constitution.
“Form a more perfect Union” recognizes the desire to pursue continuous improvement and that we will never be perfect.
“Establish, insure, and provide” are affirmative responsibilities of the federal government to achieve the stated goals.
“Promote” means to encourage, which is fundamentally different than provide.
“Secure” means to take steps to ensure individual liberty and equal opportunity in a manner consistent with personal responsibility and accountability.
“Posterity” means the government should be concerned with sustainability and its stewardship responsibility to ensure that our future is better than our past.
Finally, the 10th Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Compare the above to what the federal government is doing today. All the express and enumerated responsibilities for the federal government are in discretionary spending, which is now less than 30 percent of direct spending and is declining. The federal government has become a bloated bureaucracy that is not outcome-oriented. Federalism has been undermined, and states’ rights have been eviscerated. In addition, the federal government is mortgaging the future of our country and its citizens at record rates.
In addition to heeding the words of the preamble, we need to return to our founding principles. These include limited but effective government, individual liberty and opportunity, personal responsibility and accountability, the rule of law and equal justice under the law, fiscal responsibility and inter-generation equity, and stewardship. These timeless principles made our country great, and they can keep us great.
We also need to heed the four warnings that Washington gave us in his Farewell Address. They were to avoid excessive debt, avoid foreign wars, avoid regionalism, and avoid factionalism (partisanship). We clearly have not followed his wise advice over time.
Three things are needed to address the above and save our collective future.
First, we need a statutory Fiscal Stability (Debt) Commission that will actively engage the American people and make a package of budget, spending and revenue recommendations to stabilize debt/GDP at a reasonable and sustainable level by a specific year. The commission’s package of recommendations should receive an up-or-down vote in Congress. Fortunately, bipartisan bills have been introduced in the Senate and House to create such a commission. Congress needs to pass related legislation ASAP.
Second, we need a Fiscal Responsibility Constitutional Amendment that will limit the ability of current and future Congresses to continue to mortgage our collective future. The House Judiciary Committee should hold a hearing on House Concurrent Resolution 24, which relates to the Congress’ constitutional responsibility under Article V regarding this issue. Shockingly, Congress has failed to call for a Convention of States to propose a Fiscal Responsibility Amendment even though there were more than the required number of state applications as far back as 1979. Since then, federal debt has increased from less than $1 trillion to about $34 trillion, and the value of the dollar has declined by almost 80 percent! It is time to rectify this wrong.
Third, we need a new and expanded commission to review and recommend key national outcome-based indicators, along with a re-organization of the federal government and the devolution of specific functions and activities to the states for consideration by Congress and the president. This should be created by law and coupled with expanded re-organization authority for the president.
We must recognize reality. America is in decline, and American voters are not satisfied with the status quo. Taking the above three steps can help reverse these factors and ensure that our future is better than our past.