Gov. Greg Abbott led a cheering crowd of states’ rights supporters at the Capitol on Tuesday in a renewed effort to amend the U.S. Constitution and limit the authority of the federal government.
“It is you the people who are the answer to what ails America,” Abbott told the revved up audience. “This may be our last chance to get this right.”
Abbott’s speech came as Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land and Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, filed bills that would add Texas to a so-far short list of states calling for a constitutional amendment to restrict the powers of the federal government.
The governor began calling for a convention of the states in January, and has promised to make the issue a priority during the 2017 legislative session, which starts Jan. 10.
Last year, Abbott released a nearly 70-page plan – part American civics lesson, part anti-Obama diatribe – detailing nine proposed constitutional amendments that he said would unravel the federal government’s decades-long power grab and restore authority over economic regulation and other matters to the states. Among the amendments Abbott suggested are requiring Congress to balance the budget, prohibiting Congress from regulating state activities and allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
The idea of a convention of the states is not a novel one. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., endorsed the idea of a convention to amend the Constitution and restore limited government. Congress would be forced to act on the states’ demands once 34 states joined the effort. So far, only eight have joined.
But the elections last month swept 33 Republican governors into office across the nation, and Abbott said that’s a hopeful sign for the movement to amend the Constitution. He also pointed to the election of Donald Trump, who has said he supports congressional term limits that convention supporters want.
Lawmakers in Texas tried in 2015 to pass a measure calling for a convention of states. The bill passed in the House, but failed in the Senate.
Miller said he was optimistic the 2017 session would end better.
“We know many states are lined up behind us, just waiting to see what Texas is going to do,” he said. “We must lead the way.”
A convention is one of two ways the Constitution can be amended, and it’s described in Article V. One way is that Congress can propose amendments approved by two-thirds of the members of both chambers. The other method allows two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a convention to propose amendments. Republicans who back the idea are confident that because they control state government in a majority of states, their ideas would prevail.
In both cases, the amendments become effective only if ratified by three-fourths of the states.
So far, the Constitution has been amended 27 times. None of those were amendments generated by a convention of states.
Critics say there’s a good reason. In an editorial lambasting Rubio’s plan, USA Today‘s editorial board warned that such a process could invite mayhem and further poison the nation’s vitriolic political scene. It would also raise unresolved questions about the years-long process of ratification. And some conservatives who otherwise agree with Abbott and Rubio on many issues fear a convention could lead to greater restrictions on guns and money in politics and greater overall power for the federal government.
Abbott dismisses those criticisms, saying that he would call for a limited scope to the convention.
Using either method, it’s extremely difficult to get amendments passed, but with so many states going red after the 2016 election, Abbott could be right about this year being the time to push for a convention of states.
If you look at the statistics in terms of which party has control over both the governor’s office and both chambers of their state’s legislature today, only six states have both Democrat governors and legislatures (Washington, California, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, and Rhode Island). That’s only one state away from the percentage needed to pass amendments.
Paul Ryan, ever hesitant to cooperate with Trump, is still pushing his establishment GOP agenda rather than help Trump to achieve his, and it’s doubtful McConnell is willing to join forces with him either. We will never see them voluntarily agree to term limits, so it will be impossible for Trump to achieve that. And a balanced budget? Well, that’s the stuff dreams are made of, so perhaps a convention of the states is in order.