Thursday, April 23, 2020


Yesterday I praised a New York Times story that listed many of the established right-wing groups that have been using big money to amplify the message of anti-lockdown protesters. The Times story cited groups such as FreedomWorks and ALEC. But left out of that story was another well-funded group that has also been aiding the demonstrators. A Washington Post story names that group:
The ads on Facebook sounded populist and passionate: “The people are rising up against these insane shutdowns,” they said. “We’re fighting back to demand that our elected officials reopen America.”

But the posts, funded by an initiative called Convention of States, were not the product of a grass-roots uprising alone....

The Convention of States project launched in 2015 with a high-dollar donation from the family foundation of Robert Mercer, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Republican patron. It boasts past support from two members of the Trump administration — Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development.

It also trumpets a prior endorsement from Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida and a close Trump ally who is pursuing an aggressive plan to reopen his state’s economy....

For the Convention of States, public health is an unusual focus. It was founded to push for a convention that would add a ­balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
But a balanced budget amendment is just one of the goals of Convention of States. The complete list of amendments, if added to the Constitution, would result in an almost unimaginably radical transformation of America.

CoS wants to take advantage of the fact that Article V of the Constitution says a constitutional convention must take place if legislatures in two-thirds of the states call for one. Amendments passed in a convention would then have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

What does CoS want? Oh, just this:
... here are a few examples of amendments that can be proposed under our resolution.

* A balanced budget amendment.

* A redefinition of the General Welfare Clause (the original view was the federal government could not spend money on any topic within the jurisdiction of the states).

* A redefinition of the Commerce Clause (the original view was that Congress was granted a narrow and exclusive power to regulate shipments across state lines–not all the economic activity of the nation).

* A prohibition of using international treaties and law to govern the domestic law of the United States.

* A limitation on using Executive Orders and federal regulations to enact laws (since Congress is supposed to be the exclusive agency to enact laws).

* Imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court.

* Placing an upper limit on federal taxation.

* Requiring the sunset of all existing federal taxes and a super-majority vote to replace them with new, fairer taxes.
We know a balanced budget amendment would be a terrible idea -- it's the lack of a balanced budget amendment that allows the federal government to do the kind of spending that prevented the Great Recession from becoming a full-blown depression, and that's permitting the current emergency spending. But what about these other ideas?

What does CoS mean by "a redefinition of the General Welfare Clause"? Libertarians believe that the clause ("The Congress shall have the Power to lay and collect Taxes ... to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States") has been misinterpreted, and that a proper interpretation would make programs such as Social Security and Medicare unconstitutional.

What about a redefinition of the Commerce Clause? Here's part of a piece that appeared at the FreedomWorks website in 2015:
"To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes.”

The Commerce Clause is a short phrase of 16 words, none of which are difficult to understand. Despite this, the clause is one of the most misunderstood in the Constitution. Unfortunately, abuse of the Commerce Clause has justified a massive expansion of federal government interventions in the marketplace and in the lives of everyday Americans. From nationalizing labor laws to the EPA regulating mercury and carbon dioxide emissions, the expansion of the Commerce Clause has redefined the scope of government.
Term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court would leave lobbyists as the most experienced people in government -- the only folks in Washington allowed to serve for life. "Placing an upper limit on federal taxation" means placing an upper limit on rich people's federal taxation -- and also means starving the government of revenue, in order to force its shrinkage (or, to use Grover Norquist's metaphor, its death by drowning in a bathtub). And sunsetting current tax laws so they can be replaced with "new, fairer taxes" means ending progressive taxation altogether -- you pay an even greater percentage of taxes, while the rich pay an even smaller one.

This is the wish list. This is the long-term goal of some of the people who want to reopen America long before it's ready.

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