Monday, April 12, 2010

What's Wrong with the 28th Amendment? Part 1

(This is the first of a two-part series.)
Not a month goes by that I don't receive an email urging me to urge twenty other victims of a chain email to urge Congress to pass a proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution and submit it to the states for ratification. At least three“28th Amendments” have been proposed, supposedly to reign in the out-of-control federal government and—what's that catchphrase, now? Oh, yes: “Take our government back.”
The problem with all three proposed constitutional amendments is that they're presented as convenient excuses for voters to avoid responsibility for their government. Do we really want to “take our government back” and expect matters to take care of themselves without further effort on our parts? Do we seriously expect a constitutional amendment to do the job for us?
The three “28th Amendments” are term limitations, balanced budget requirements, and an oddly worded amendment to require congressmen and real people to follow the same laws.
Let's look at the most recent quick fix: "Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives, and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”
I urge you to carefully read the second half of the proposed amendment. The first half of the measure is the bait; the second half is the hook. I'll address the hook first.
For starters, congressmen are subject to certain reasonable laws that don't apply to the citizens at large.
Congressmen, for example, have to make public declarations of assets and the sources of those assets. If the proposed 28th Amendment passes, each of us would have to make public declarations of our assets and declare the sources. It's understandable for a public figure, such as a congressman, to give up this degree of privacy; but do you want your financial records open to public scrutiny? Under the proposed 28th Amendment, that's what would happen. This is only one area in which the proposed 28th Amendment would deprive you and me of essential liberties.
Another problem with this proposed amendment is the wording. Under the Constitution, congressmen enjoy a monopoly on passing federal laws. Under the proposed amendment, the people must also vote on them. How many private citizens have the time and inclination to study all the bills before Congress and vote on them? If the Congress is voted a pay raise, would that also apply to everyone else in America? The wording of the proposed amendment is a legal minefield that only a lawyer could love.
At the same time, the proposed 28th Amendment would do nothing to harness congressmen's tendency to exempt themselves from laws they make for the rest of us to follow. The email message on this proposed 28th Amendment incorrectly tells us that congressmen don't pay into Social Security. The truth is, they began paying Social Security taxes a few years ago; however, it makes no difference to them because they know they don't have to depend on Social Security. They can word laws so that members of Congress meet certain conditions that no one else can meet. Remember, there are a lot of lawyers in Congress, and they know how to do that sort of thing.
I'll give you an example of how federal law can be manipulated to help only one person. Many years ago, a man established a tax-exempt foundation to provide college scholarships to young men of Norwegian descent living in the Naples, Florida, area and who were the only offspring of clergymen. The wording of the conditions met federal requirements that the scholarship be open to any member of the public meeting the proscribed qualifications. In fact, though, it applied only to the son of the person establishing a tax-exempt foundation. Think about it: If an obscure Lutheran minister can come up with that one, what can the lawyers in Congress do?
Congressmen notoriously ignore constitutional limitations that they find inconvenient. If you want to sweep the rats out of Washington, don't expect a quick fix that probably came from Washington in the first place. Keep yourself informed on the issues and on what your congressman is doing and how he's voting. Liberty is not to be regained and preserved by quick fixes but by eternal vigilance.

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