Thursday, October 30, 2008

GOING OVER THE LIMIT -- AGAIN

As of yesterday, the U.S. national debt was $10,530,350,651,098.48. That's almost 10.6 trillion dollars, and 10.6 trillion dollars is the limit which Congress has imposed on federal borrowing. The Secretary of the Treasury has urged Congress to increase the debt limit to 11.3 trillion.

How long do you suppose that will last?

Ten trillion is too big a number to be easily understood. How about this number: you and I and every last man woman and child in this great nation is in hock for $34,525.

Liberal economists used to shrug off such numbers by saying, "We owe the national debt to ourselves, so what does it matter?" Not so, anymore. We owe it to the Chinese, the Saudis, the British. We owe it to all the nations of the European Union. No doubt we owe some of it to Osama Ben Laden's family if not to him.

Back in the Eighties, when Ronald Reagan was President, there was a rather vigorous effort to adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some thirty-two of the required thirty-four state legislatures petitioned the Congress to call a convention for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment.

Many of the states, and President Reagan himself, were not really intent on getting a convention as contemplated by Article V of the Constitution. They just wanted to threaten a convention, in hopes that Congress would propose a balanced budget amendment and send it to the states to be ratified.

I never thought they were wise. Hoping that Congress would propose a constitutional amendment with real teeth in it is like hoping the fox will guard the hen house. The only realistic path to saving the nation from bankkruptcy is to call an Article V convention.

I know. I know. All the pundits and the academics wring their hands at the mention of an Article V convention. They posit all kinds of horror stories, claiming that a convention can rewrite the Bill of rights. And on and on. Crapola folks. Sheer crapola. An Article V convention can't change a word of the constitution. All it can do is propose amendments. Nothing that comes out of a convention gets into the constitution until Congress sends it to the states and three fourths of the states - 38 - have ratified the amendment.

One has only to remember the ineffectual Graham-Rudman Act to realize how Congress would propose a toothless amendment, even if it were bludgeoned into doing something to ward off a convention.

A real, meaningful, effective balanced budget amendment would have to be simple, clear, and automatic. Here is some language I think worthy of consideration:

"The Congress shall not adopt a deficit budget except in time of national emergency. Members of Congress shall receive no compensation for services rendered during a national emergency."

It will take a convention to get those words into our constitution. Either we are a mature people capable of self government or we aren't. It's time for a gut check.

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