That Was the Constitution That Was

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Dec 28, 2014 No Comments ›› admin

By Lynn Woolley

This column was written on April 20, 2011.

You may be wondering what the Framers of our government would think about our current debt crisis and our arguments about spending cuts and taxes. Most likely, they’d scratch their heads and wonder how we got into this mess in the first place. After all, the Constitution they gave us was designed to prevent all this from happening.

Benjamin Franklin (Illustration: Biography)

Benjamin Franklin (Illustration: Biography)

Many of those who worked on the Constitution, including Benjamin Franklin, had little faith that it would stand the test of time and so it was inevitable that it would be changed. It took us just 125 years to formally screw up the sections on taxes and how we choose the people who will govern.

The government had been taxing income since 1862, but faced off-and-on problems with the courts.

With the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913, constitutional questions were put to rest, and it became apparent that the country would no longer be run by tariffs alone.

Even the New York Times protested, writing,

“When men get the habit of helping themselves to the property of others, they are not easily cured of it.”

As with most government programs, the income tax has produced unintended consequences. Among them are an incomprehensible Tax Code, billions spent each year in tax compliance and preparation, an army of lobbyists working to get their particular special interest into the Code, and members of Congress all too eager to exchange legislative favors for campaign contributions.

The 17th Amendment, also ratified in 1913 is even worse.

It undid a system of selecting government officials that was truly ingenious. Remember, we have three branches of government and one of those branches is bicameral. The Framers devised a system wherein each of those four entities would be assembled in a different way.

The president of the United States was to be elected by the Electoral College. The president would then appoint the members of the Judiciary with consent of the Senate. The House of Representatives would be elected by direct vote of the American people. The Senate would be named by the legislatures of the several states. The 17th Amendment changed the election of senators to a popular vote –just like the House.

That seems more “democratic” to a lot of people, but in reality the 17th Amendment stands as the biggest Washington power grab in history, inflicting great damage to the concepts of federalism and separation of powers. The unintended consequences run like water through a mountain stream.

The amendment reduces the power of the states by removing a legislature’s right to appoint someone else if a senator isn’t doing his job. It creates a need for senators to raise huge amounts of money to buy radio and television campaign commercials – especially in big states like Texas. That means only the very rich can run. It means that senators, freed from any attachment to the legislature, can vote for massive spending and unfunded mandates that create havoc in times such as these.

Naturally, the 17th Amendment made the lobbying cesspool much worse.

Together, the 16th and 17th Amendments have paved the way for virtually every problem we’re now facing from confiscatory taxes to out-of-control spending. Without these two progressive “reforms,” the states would be more powerful than the federal government just as many of the Founding Fathers intended.

So can we return to those thrilling days of yesteryear?

Not likely. There is an income tax replacement plan called the Fair Tax that would eliminate the Tax Code and the Internal Revenue Service, but it gets very little respect in Washington. No one even discusses the idea of restoring the power to name senators to the states. Official Washington seems to like the structure we have created with its system of Tax Code favoritism and federal supremacy.

Repealing these amendments would be a great first step toward restoring the constitutional republic the Framers handed us.

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