Paul Hampton

Change Congress, not the Constitution

Speaker Pro-Tem Greg Snowden, left, is House Speaker Philip Gunn’s right-hand man.
Speaker Pro-Tem Greg Snowden, left, is House Speaker Philip Gunn’s right-hand man. Associated Press File

Sometimes I feel like an alderman I once covered who was famous for snoozing or zoning out during meetings, only to snap awake when it was time to vote and wonder aloud, “Why wasn’t I informed?” about the pending ordinance.

And so it was with the Compact for a Balanced Budget.

Most of my life, folks have been vacillating between griping about officials not following the U.S. Constitution, and wanting to change that same Constitution. These days, the change-the-Constitution crowd is the loudest.

And, though Mississippi didn’t fall for the Convention of States, a billionaire-fuled movement to amend the Constitution, the Legislature in 2015 did join the Compact.

“The Compact approach is focused entirely on a single-subject; a debt-ceiling limit that in effect leads to a balanced budget,” Mississippi House Speaker Pro-Tem Greg Snowden, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant as commissioner to the compact, wrote in an email. “It is entirely safe in that no extraneous issues or amendments may be considered at the convention. Indeed, the convention will occur for only 24 hours, and the only business will be an up or down vote on the exact amendment language that at least 38 states (the number required for ratification) have already adopted in their respective Legislatures.

“All of this will have been agreed by and through the member States by Compact (constitutional jargon for a binding contract between one or more States). The Compact itself is not a new concept. Mississippi already is a member of over two dozen compacts, but this one is unique in that its purpose is an Article V amendment.”

The fears I wrote about last week, of a runaway convention, have been raised about the Compact.

I don’t doubt the speaker pro-tem’s sincerity, but I see no iron-clad guarantee the Compact couldn’t be taken over by rascals and significant damage done to our rights. Remember, there are elements on both the left and the right who would love to get their hands on the Constitution.

The state’s legislation, based on model legislation being passed around by Compact lobbyists, contains a balanced budget amendment that does more than require a balanced budget.

It hands off some of Congress’ power to the state legislatures, requiring Congress to get approval of a majority of legislatures before it can increase its debt limit. It also requires the president to impound money appropriated by Congress when the debt exceeds a certain limit.

And it would allow Congress to eliminate the income tax and replace it with an “end-user sales tax” by a simple majority vote. Such a vote would appear to repeal the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which created the income tax. That should take a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate and approval by three-fourths of the states.

The main argument for all this is Congress is out of control and won’t balance its budget. But Congress has in fact had a balanced budget in the late 1990s and actually had a surplus. Some argue that surplus was part of the ticking time bomb that almost exploded the economy in 2008.

And most of this most-recent “runaway” spending was the result of that economic crisis and two undeclared wars.

We should fix this the old-fashioned way: Elect officials we can trust.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton