Big Problem, Wrong Solution Proposed By Newt Gingrich
by John F. McManus, President
Newt Gingrich is at it again. His “American Solutions” organization has just published his latest call for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In this September 10, 2010 article, he boasts: “In 1995 and 1997 when I was Speaker of the House, we passed a Balanced Budget Amendment in the House twice, only to see it fail in the Senate.”
Mr. Gingrich is a former history professor. He claims to know a great deal about our nation’s governmental system. He won election to Congress and then saw his colleagues choose him to be the Speaker of the House, a post second in power only to the presidency of our country. He is now pointing to our nation’s enormous deficits (approximately $1.5 trillion annually) and the accumulated national debt (more than $13 trillion). And he’s telling all whom he can reach that Congress should be forced to balance the budget with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Balancing the budget is a good idea. But doing so via a constitutional amendment is a very wrong way to do it. First of all, such a plan inherently states that there’s something wrong with the Constitution that needs fixing. But the Constitution isn’t at fault; blame should be directed to our elected leaders. Further, there’s a remarkably more simple procedure through which the House of Representatives could balance the budget all by itself — any time it wants to do so.
Any American who has even an elementary grasp of the Constitution knows that an amendment via the 1995 and 1997 route Gingrich mentions requires approval by two-thirds of both Houses of Congress followed by approval of three-quarters of the state legislatures. But the Constitution’s Article I, Section 7 states: “All bills for raising revenues shall originate in the House of Representatives….” If a majority in the House (218 members) refuses to “originate” a spending bill for anything, that’s it. The Senate doesn’t have to be consulted; the President can only watch what is happening; even the Supreme Court and the New York Times is powerless to stop the House from curtailing spending.
Why isn’t Newt Gingrich pointing to this feature of the Constitution? He has to know that the House has the power of the purse and it can stop foreign aid, federal meddling in education, housing, welfare, medicine, etc. There’s absolutely no need for any amendment if balancing the budget is the real goal.
Mr. Gingrich can’t be unaware of this. And he surely also knows that the Constitution provides a second method to gain amendments, the procedure known as a constitutional convention (con-con). If two-thirds of the states call for a convention, it must be convened. Once underway, there is no limit to what a con-con can produce, meaning that it can completely abolish the current constitution and insert in its place something totally different from what our nation has relied on since 1789. A con-con can even abolish any need for the states to ratify whatever it produces.
As noted above, producing an amendment via the traditional method (super majorities in both Houses of Congress plus ratification by 34 states) is an arduous process. If Mr. Gingrich and his allies fail to accomplish their goal though this procedure, will they switch emphasis and begin calling for the very dangerous con-con? No one should be surprised if this occurs.
In the message his “American Solutions” organization sent on September 10th, Mr. Gingrich stated that he wouldn’t want to raise taxes to accomplish balancing the budget. He recommended instead “reforming failed and bloated [federal] programs and institutions.” These programs don’t need “reforming;” they need termination. The Constitution that allows amendments does not allow for departments of Education, Housing, Energy, Health and Human Services, and a host of others. Always claiming to be a constitutional scholar, Mr. Gingrich has demonstrated severe deficiencies. Because he is a constitutional scholar, it is reasonable to conclude that he is a dangerous deceiver.
Yes, the budget must be balanced. Even better, surpluses to retire existing debt should be produced. This is what is so sorely needed. Also needed is a sufficient number of House members who will use their constitutional power and take the safe and sane route to putting America’s financial house in order.