FERGUSON: Time to call for a new constitutional convention

September 20, 2013 

Based on the approval ratings I’ve seen and conversations I’ve heard recently, I’d say we are feeling as badly about our federal government as we ever have in this country’s history. And I think it may be just about to get a lot worse.

The government will have to shut down at the beginning of October if a budget or continuing resolution is not passed by then. By November, we will default on our debt if Congress doesn’t approve an increase to our self-imposed debt ceiling. With a large number of Republicans insisting that Obamacare be defunded as part of any resolution to our financial situation and Obama insisting that he will not even consider doing that, either or both of these once-unthinkable situations could come to pass.

If the worst case scenarios do occur we will be in uncharted waters. The stock market could collapse. Your cash and investments could become virtually worthless overnight. Government benefits like Social Security and Medicaid might be dramatically scaled back or not paid at all. We could become one of those countries people mention when they list famous “failed states.”

I think it’s fair to say that our government is fundamentally broken at this point, and I don’t see it getting any better unless we somehow shake things up and change the status quo. But how could we do that?

I think we should turn for inspiration to the year 1789. That’s when the 13 states that then made up the Union decided that the government that was set up in the Articles of Confederation after the Revolution was not working out and needed major revisions. So they convened a constitutional convention and our federal government as we know it was the result.

I believe that in a similar manner we are finding that our government as it currently exists simply isn’t working anymore, and we need to make the same sort of radical change. It’s time for the states that make up this union to call for another constitutional convention.

I would not suggest throwing out our current Constitution as I think it is a worthy foundation to build a government on. But I think we have found that it leaves some loopholes that our representatives have exploited much to the nation’s detriment, and those loopholes need to be closed. Some amendments I’d suggest are:

1. A requirement for a balanced budget every year, with the only exception being a time of war or natural catastrophe. Even then there should be limits on how big a deficit can be and how long it can be on the books before it is paid off.

2. One that makes election to Congress more of a public service position and less like winning the lottery. Enact term limits for all congressional offices. Set salaries to correspond to the government General Schedule instead of letting then set their own, and give congressmen the same heath-care options other federal employees have. Eliminate retirement benefits and make it illegal for congressmen to become lobbyists when they leave office.

3. An amendment that makes it very clear that it is Congress’ responsibility to declare war and that we can only legally go to war when our national security is under threat or one of our allies has been attacked. No more “nation building” or “peace keeping” exercises at a president’s discretion.

I think amending our Constitution this way would address some of the more egregious issues we’re having with our federal government. But don’t expect the impetus for change to come from Washington -- they will not give up the power they’ve accumulated over the years willingly. We would need two-thirds of our states to petition Congress in order to convene another constitutional convention. It may seem far-fetched now, but I’m guessing we may be willing to consider such a radical step as the insanity in Washington continues the rest of this year.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Centerville. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com or visit his blog at nscsense.blogspot.com.

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