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    Let’s Get Real On Constitutional Amendments – And Stop Promising Them

    Let’s Get Real On Constitutional Amendments – And Stop Promising Them

    Constitutional amendments are oddly popular these days in Republican circles: A Federal Marriage Amendment, a Balanced Budget Amendment, and a constitutional amendment banning abortion have all been part of either congressional proposals or presidential candidate promises.

    This is a mistake.  Controversial issues such gay marriage, abortion, or massive budget changes are by nature not the sort of proposals that can garner the 2/3rds of both houses of Congress and 3/4ths of the states.   Even an amendment that is necessary to produce a better policy than the status quo can be a serious waste of resources and credibility if it has no realistic chance of passing.

    To be sure, these amendments have their rhetorical uses for politicians.  They are grand gestures that provide an opportunity to show the depth of their commitment to an issue.  They allow politicians who believe in federalism but also have strong views on policies that are currently the prerogative of the states, to square the circle and avoid contradictions.  They also provide non-lawyers or those appealing to non-lawyers with an opportunity to straightforwardly push their views while staying out of the weeds of constitutional law.

    I don’t expect politicians to relinquish these tools overnight.  The same pragmatist part of me that insists constitutional amendments are a waste of resources also tells me “So what, they deliver votes” when wearing the political hat instead of the policy hat.

    However, we must recognize that these rhetorical advantages come at a price.  Many of the Republican Party’s internal problems stem from its failure to deliver on the conservative policies it has promised.

    The Tea Party, the Religious Right,  and the base might demand these amendments, and politicians might gain short-term advantages from promising them, but eventually, the fact that it is virtually impossible to deliver on these promises will come back to bite them.  Furthermore, attempts to fulfill these promises might require trading tangible opportunities or policies for doomed votes.

    Republican and Tea Party elites need to manage expectations.  The base will not like to hear that realistically, gay marriage and abortion aren’t going to be eliminated by constitutional amendment, and a real balanced budget amendment (despite large amounts of support in theory) is not much more likely.

    It will be a serious problem in the long term if the base comes to expect the Republican Party to deliver these amendments.  One of the core missions of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, and the right in general is to end unsustainable borrowing from the future to fund policies that won’t work. It’s about time we take a hard look at the costs of borrowing political capital from the future to pursue legislation that won’t pass, because that too is unsustainable.


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    I want a Constitutional Amendment banning all future Constitutional Amendments.

    My question is who will be on the committee to form a constitutional convention. How will it be formed and who will be the decidider. We became a laughing stock when the members of the recent committee re spending and debt ceiling were named. It was all a joke. I don’t trust obama or the dims in fooling around with the Constitution or the republicans eiither for that matter. That has been my fear all along with this talk of a convention. I am not alone in this for sure. The last I heard only three or four more states are needed to form a constitutional convention and then the poop will hit the fan.

    If we should have such a thing though, I would like an amendment that says congress cannot pass a multiple law. No more 2,000pages that no one knows what is in it. Each new law has to stand alone and be in language a layman can understand and without the ability to parse the language to suit their goals as the commerce clause was. These people seem to feel they must pass something. This will keep them busy translating legalese to plain english and eliminate pork at the same time. It should be an impeachable offense for any congressman or seantor to put forth a bill that the Constitution plainly forbids. That might stop them from these frivilous idiotic laws they pass re TV volume. I would also like to eliminate that slush fund both the president and congress can draw on that congress claims they must spend for pork before the president does. I also would like the house involved in approving judges…all of them. Leaving it to the senate has been a disaster.

      spiritof61 in reply to BarbaraS. | September 14, 2011 at 10:38 am

      The states, via their legislatures, state conventions, or referenda, would appoint the delegates to a constitutional convention. With a strong conservative majority in state governments now and the prospect of even bigger conservative wins next year, a 2013 convention would come at the best possible time.

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