State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) and a Republican colleague from Germantown are calling for a Convention of the States, saying states must act to rein in entrenched politicians in the D.C. swamp, but the liberal-leaning Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says it’s the idea of a convention of the states that is really reckless.
Tiffany and state Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) have introduced a resolution endorsing a convention they say would consider three issues: curbing the federal government’s ability to spend recklessly; impose term limits on politicians who seem to get too comfortable on Capitol Hill; and reassert 10th Amendment states’ rights.
The Senate Committee on Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts held a hearing on the proposed resolution this past week. Tiffany and Knodl also co-authored an opinion piece giving their reasons for bringing the resolution forward.
First and foremost, Tiffany and Knodl wrote, the federal deficit has hit $1 trillion.
“Wisconsin families know that is not sustainable,” they wrote. “We don’t rack up credit cards to the max, add tens of thousands in car loans, a hefty mortgage we can’t afford, and then expect our grandchildren to pay it all back. At some point, creditors come calling.”
But, the lawmakers wrote, that’s just business as usual in the D.C. swamp.
“The federal debt has reached more than $22.5 trillion, which amounts to about $183,000 per taxpayer,” they wrote. “Meanwhile, there is no sign that Washington politicians are anywhere close to solving this problem. They just kick the can down the road.”
Tiffany and Knodl said they have to craft a balanced budget every two years because the state constitution requires that they do so. If that is to happen at the federal level, Tiffany and Knodl wrote, states must take action.
“In Article V of the United States Constitution, our nation’s founding fathers created a process for us to assert our role when the powers of the federal government have grown too reckless and need to be reined in,” they wrote. “Our founders knew the power of government should come from the consent of the governed.”
A Convention of States would help states reclaim power from the federal government by launching the process of amending the constitution, Tiffany and Knodl wrote.
“Taxpayers deserve to know that the people representing them face the same struggles they do — that they’re true citizen legislators,” they wrote. “Adding term limits to our constitution removes incentives for career politicians to become part of the D.C. swamp, and instead focus their attention on solutions to the problems we sent them there to fix — like our overspending.”
Big and bold doesn’t happen in Washington, the lawmakers wrote.
“But in Wisconsin, we’ve proven that we can lead the way and stand up to powerful special interests,” they wrote. “That leadership and grit is needed once again. It’s time for Wisconsin to step up and rein in the out-of-control powers of D.C., by joining the Convention of States movement.”
WDC opposes Convention of the States
At the hearing, Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, testified in opposition to the resolution, saying it was a reckless idea.
Rothschild said he testified two years ago on another resolution calling for a Convention of the States, but this one, he said, was even worse than that one was.
“As you’ll recall, that effort, we were earnestly told, was solely for the purpose of enacting a balanced budget amendment,” Rothschild said. “This joint resolution is much vaguer and broader, and would open up the door of any Convention of the States even faster and wider for a wholesale rewrite of our founding document, thus jeopardizing our fundamental rights.”
Rothschild cited conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia’s opposition to the Article V route.
“I certainly would not want a Constitutional Convention,” Rothschild quoted Scalia as saying. “Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it? … A Constitutional Convention is a horrible idea.”
It was surprising that so many conservatives were ignoring what Rothschild called prudent advice from one of their patron saints, Rothschild said. He said the resolution calls for a convention to consider “one or more amendments” to the constitution, so no one knows how many amendments the convention would be considering.
The resolution also claims the federal government has ceased to live under a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, but Rothschild said what exactly a “proper interpretation” was is not spelled out.
And then, Rothschild said, the last whereas clause of the resolution says the purpose of the Convention of the States is for “restraining these and related abuses of power.”
“What ‘these abuses’ are is unclear, except for a reference to the size of the national debt and to ‘unfunded mandates’ — and what the ‘related abuses of power’ are is anybody’s guess,” he said.
Finally, Rothschild testified, the “Resolved” section of the joint resolution says the purpose of such a Convention of the States is to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office.”
All three of those are vague, Rothschild said.
“What would those ‘fiscal restraints’ be?” he asked. “How would it ‘limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government’? And what would the term limits be?”
The second question really lets the horses out of the barn door, Rothschild claimed.
“By calling a Convention of the States to ‘limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government,’ you’ve invited a top-to-bottom redrafting of our constitution because the entire constitution deals with the power and jurisdiction of the federal government,” he said. “So you shouldn’t pretend that somehow this Convention of the States would somehow be self-limiting.”
Rothschild said any fiscal handcuffing of the federal government, which a convention would purportedly seek to do by imposing fiscal restraints, would risk imperiling the economy in times of a downturn.
“The only reliable medicine for bringing large economies like ours out of a recession is deficit spending,” he said. “It’s like the economy has cancer and you won’t give it radiation or chemotherapy. It’s like the economy has diabetes, and you won’t give it insulin. You’ll just let the economy die.”
Had “fiscal restraints” been in place in 1933, Rothschild said, the nation would never have gotten out of the Great Depression or been able to win World War II.
“Had they been in place in 2009, we would never have gotten out of the Great Recession, which would have turned into another Great Depression, with millions more lives ruined,” he said.
Rothschild said the WDC doesn’t believe in term limits.
“We believe that the people should be able to decide for themselves who should represent them,” he said. “And please let me note that we are not categorically opposed to amending the Constitution. In fact, we strongly favor a constitutional amendment that would say, ‘Corporations aren’t persons, and money isn’t speech.’”
But WDC believes the Article V route for amending the Constitution is reckless, he said.
“We believe the Constitution should be amended the old-fashioned way, by having Congress pass, by a two-thirds margin in the House and the Senate, any legislation to amend it, and that three-quarters of the state legislatures must approve it. This is a cleaner, safer way to go about the amendment process,” he said.
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.