Amidst the noise and grasping of day-to-day politics, the pending vote on the debt limit offers a unique moment of clarity. The sheer gravity of the problem requires us to stop and think about the very structure of our government, what its purpose is, how it should operate, and who should make the key decisions. The coming debate on this issue presents America with an opportunity to remember and to reassess our basic ideas and principles about the American system of government.
I applaud Speaker Boehner for recognizing that our country is at the brink. The ever-growing debt is simply unsustainable. His speech this week to the Economic Club of New York demonstrated a recognition that we must consider serious changes to the way Washington works if our nation is to avert a steady, or possibly sudden, decline. One phrase from Speaker Boehner’s speech proved particularly insightful: “Many of our problems can be traced to a misguided belief by politicians that the American economy is something that can be controlled or micromanaged or influenced positively by government intervention…”
Speaker Boehner is correct. However, it’s not just the economy that can’t be “controlled or micromanaged” from Washington. American society itself is so diverse, so organic, so varying in its geography, culture, and demographics that we see the same fatal conceit when government tries to manage it from one central location. That is, unfortunately, what we have done over the past 80 years.
Today, the national government simply does too much. It has usurped power and responsibilities designed for states and the people. Unless this changes, we will never be on sound fiscal footing.
Over time, the relationship between people and the national government has become horribly out of balance.
In the early days of this country, nearly all problems were addressed in the neighborhood or through local community meetings. Some issues were elevated to the state legislature, but very few ever made their way to the Washington. This system of local control was intentional because decisions made by and for people closest to the problem are uniquely tailored with local interests in mind. Today, the opposite has become the norm. Almost any issue or problem is treated as a matter in which the federal government has authority to intervene. As this occurs, the roles of states, local governments and communities are being diluted.
To address this growing problem, I plan to introduce the Repeal Amendment, which would help return power and rights back to the states and people respectively, just as our Founding Fathers intended when they drafted the Constitution.
The tenants of the Repeal Amendment are simple: if two-thirds of the states collectively find a federal law or regulation abhorrent or misguided, they should have the power to repeal said law or regulation. The law would then be sent back to Washington for further consideration, at which time Congress may choose not to act again on the matter, or they may vote to override the states’ repeal and pass it in finality. This check will apply against Republicans just as it will against Democrats. It is not a partisan issue. It is simply about restoring a balance of power.
If adopted, the Repeal Amendment would bring a careful but powerful shift in the balance of power between state representatives and federal officials. The amendment would force the federal government to reconsider provisions of law that no longer have support around the nation. It would bring one element of decision-making power out of Washington and return it to the people. It would also provide states with a tool to address federal encroachment by reversing congressional acts and regulations so long as a two-thirds consensus is reached nationwide.
We have strayed so far off course that the Founding Fathers would not recognize the system of government we have today — the $14 trillion debt is evidence of that.
I am convinced that if we do not change the way we govern ourselves and return to a more balanced form of government where individuals, states, and the national government each play a role, the issues and challenges we face today will only worsen. We must reverse the path of destruction and put this country on track.
It is my hope that the pending fiscal crisis will help us recognize that not only do our government’s fiscal ways need to change, but our government’s structure needs to change as well and return to the balance the Founders intended. The Repeal Amendment is one tool to help put us on that path.
Congressman Rob Bishop (UT-01) is a founder of the 10th Amendment Task Force.