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THREE CONSTITUTIONAL VOIDS: Finances, Future Trends, and National Emergencies

Issue F: Congressional Recklessness with Federal Finances

Our 1787 constitution seems, by today's standards, very naïve about federal finances, and quite surprisingly, has not been modified since, either by the original 12 amendments of the "Bill of Rights", or by the 27 subsequent amendments (incl. the 14th--see below).  It establishes a few Congressional responsibilities, but essentially none for the President, the executive branch, or for any sort of stable, obligatory budgetary process.

Neither the original Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, nor any subsequently elaborations provide sufficient controls to avoid such current irresponsible actions as a) failing to pass annual budgets, and surviving on "continuing resolutions; b) playing political games with the probably counter-productive "national debt limit", c) failing to control hidden "pork barrel" add-ons; d) ignoring unaffordable out-year fiscal projections for both "entitlements" and "discretionary" funding;  e) resisting the need to raise revenues to match spending demands; f) disagreeing on the proper roles for federal spending, disguised as some "size of government" mantra; g) accepting partisan "oaths" to avoid proper legislative participation; and so forth.

On the other hand, Section 4 of the catch-all 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 (in the immediate wake of the Civil War), makes a sweeping statement that "The validity of the public debt of the United States....shall not be questioned"...except for any outstanding debts for insurrection or the emancipation of slaves, "which shall be held illegal and void".  Who knows what the Supreme Court will make out of that!

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Amendment F-1

Section 1

All relevant professional protocols shall be followed to assure both national and international confidence in the sound financial underpinnings of the United States, its currency and its fiscal obligations.

The preparation, authorization, and appropriation of annual federal budgets with objective ten-year projections should regularly be completed prior to the start of the fiscal year at hand, without partisan hindrance, and with rare exceptions only for extraordinary contingencies.

Management, servicing, and projections of the federal debt and deficits should be fully transparent, and shall never be used or threatened for partisan political purposes or budgetary machinations. 

Violations of financial/fiscal prudence shall be highlighted, and remedies identified by the Federal Reserve or some equivalent non-partisan agency not under direct control of Congress or the President. 

Section 2

The United States shall encourage the development of, and our participation in, international organizations that regulate, standardize, and encourage international financial, currency, and trade practices intended to improve global stability and balanced economic development.

Financial sanctions, however, may be used at judicious times by the United States to redress improper actions by various countries violating accepted international behavior, particularly in the hopes of avoiding military actions, or large-scale deprivation.

Section 3

No current members of the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of the federal government shall maintain any oaths, except their oath of office, which would in any way constrain their freedom and obligation to carry out their assigned duties in the best fiscal and/or financial interests of the United States. 

Issue T: Politicization of Major Global Trend Predictions

It now seems evident that there are major long-term physical and biological changes underway, regionally and globally, whose impacts will require long-term federal resources to mitigate for a) our own general welfare, and b) for our continued favorable posture in an increasingly populous, connected, and competitive world. Potentially dangerous trends already exist re: contagious diseases; genetic deformities; plant and insect invasions; climate changes; resource availability (including fresh water); energy demands; human, plant, and animal biological changes by chemical, electronic, or mechanical augmentation; instantaneous and uncontrolled distribution of unverified and potentially alarming information; "cyberspace" vulnerabilities of essential infrastructure and communications systems, cosmic events; relatively sudden traumas in the global economy, both financial (such a debt defaults) and unexpectedly rapid "robotization" of the workforce, causing massive, destabilizing unemployment--and doubtless many more.

We cannot afford to have these potential threats (and/or opportunities) either ignored or exaggerated for partisan or nefarious political, economic, or commercial purposes: there needs to be a national (and international?) governmental/private sector organization whose sole purpose is to foretell potentially advantageous or disadvantageous regional/global changes with a serious potential impact on our long-term general welfare. And its findings shall not be dismissed, contradicted, or ignored by federal legislators, and may form the basis for declaration of a national emergency. The American Geophysical Union is an example of a current, presumably objective, scientific organization currently making increasingly worrisome climate change projections.  Likewise, the Federal Reserve makes respected, sometimes dire, global financial projections, and the Congressional Research Service could easily take on such long-range trending.

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Amendment T - 1

Section 1.

In the basic interests of preserving the justice. tranquility, opportunities, and general welfare of our people, The United States shall establish one or more national organization(s) whose major purpose will be to project with foresight, caution, and qualification any and all regional/global trends, physical or biological, that could endanger our national future well-being and those of other peoples of our planet.

With a foundation of impeccable objectivity, such organization(s) will have representation and support from all relevant federal agencies (including scientific and intelligence), the private sector, and non-profit organizations, and should strive for assured long-term public and private sector funding. 

Long-term schedules for reports and their regular updates shall be established. The continuity of the core work will be assured by endowments, and many particular efforts funded within the relevant government or non-government organizations' budgets, or, if necessary, by tax incentives.

All work will be overseen, coordinated, and disseminated by a presidentially-appointed board.

Section 2.

Once established, this organization will make all reasonable efforts to extend its usefulness and cooperation with similar organizations elsewhere around the world, and quite possibly become parts of a fully trusted, independent unit of the United Nations.

Section 3.

Dire warnings from such national or international organization(s) shall be sufficient basis for establishing a responsive, and if necessary, protracted National Emergency if either the Congress or the Executive Branch deems it prudent, or fails to respond appropriately.

Issue E: Failure to Treat the Growing Range of National Emergencies

Virtually alone on a brand new continent, and shaking off the potential "tyranny" of their faraway British hierarchy, the Founding Fathers can be forgiven for not being terribly worried about the threats of war that might constitute a national emergency warranting suspension or changes in the way the US federal government or the several states did their business. The following direct quotes from Answers.com are germane:

"There is no provision in the text of the Constitution that the president has special power to act on his or her own discretion in an emergency"....

"According to Clinton Rossiter, in his Constitutional Dictatorship (2nd ed. 1963), however, the framers seem never to have considered that public officials in some future crisis might have to go outside the regular procedures for lawmaking and enforcement established by the Constitution."...."The view that the Constitution is equal to any emergency is set forth in The Federalist, nos. 23 and 24, among others."

And of course, the range of "future crises" large enough to demand special actions was doubtless smaller, without threats such as: nuclear, biological, or cyber warfare; widespread US and/or global financial collapse; global communications disruption; epigenetic calamity from manmade  products; natural disasters (volcanic, meteoric, or just rising sea levels); and now the emerging threat of dysfunctional governments in an ever more interdependent socioeconomic world. Current American law acknowledges the need for special presidential executive powers under certain dire conditions, but requires Congressional re-affirmation every six months. No contingency is foreseen in which the Congress itself is the true threat to national security and/or welfare.

It seems relatively trivial to codify in the Constitution the necessity, on occasion, to grant to the President and the Executive Branch extensive Emergency Powers in crises for which a responsible Congress can provide the desired safeguards against Executive excesses.  The hooker comes in the event, no matter how unlikely, that Congress itself has become a willing partner in the crisis for partisan political gain. Who then should become the check on excesses by the Chief Executive?

Quite clearly, the state Governors need Constitutional authority to rein in a federal government either running amok--or not running at all--and thereby presenting a major threat to national welfare.  An alternative might conceivably be the Supreme Court, but its members' grasp of rapidly unfolding threats to national welfare is certain to be less astute than those in more closely allied jobs. Their more pertinent task might be to certify the findings of some ad hoc gubernatorial panel, possibly empowered by the National Governors Association.

emergency

Amendment E - 1

The President, as Chief Executive Officer, shall be granted additional powers, as requested or declared, in times of potentially severe national emergencies. These powers shall be subject to review and reconfirmation every six months by a suitable joint House/Senate panel within the Congress or, if the Congress itself is implicit in the crisis, by a rotating panel of current State Governors, convened for this purpose by the National Governors Association. The actions of this panel shall be confirmed by the US Supreme Court, to include the dissolution of one or both houses of the current Congress and the holding of new elections as required.

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