Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Limited Government

Many of us who have spent any amount of time studying the Constitution still maintain that this document under which the second form of the federal government of the United States was created was designed in order to limit the scope of that government.  While there was a consensus that the Articles of Confederation had created a central body too weak to much longer survive, there was still a great deal of concern so soon after the Revolution that one much stronger would prove equally inimical to both the rights of the states and those of citizens.

And so it was that in "The Federalist Papers" James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay sought to allay the fears of the people that this new document did not do just that.  Of course they did so following a very strict interpretation of this document, a point of view no longer widely held by many of those currently in power; but by doing so they managed to get each of the thirteen original States to ratify the document.  Even then, ratification was not assured without an agreement placing some additional protection into the document itself, and the first ten amendments or "Bill of Rights" were born.

Today's far more liberal interpretations of the Constitution, as well as the often voiced concept of a 'living Constitution' are causing some of us to revisit this concept of a 'limited government'.  We are challenged however in that strict interpretation by a two-party ruling elite far more concerned with protecting their own rice bowl than with the rights of the people that they swore to serve when taking their oath of office.  Perhaps therefore, it's time that we took up once again the concept of additional protection from an over-reaching national legislature and bureaucracy.  

I therefore propose that we begin to lobby for an addition to the Republican Party Platform in the months leading up to the convention in Tampa for ... Term Limits.  Don't get me wrong here, I don't propose that we limit the terms in office of legislators, much as I would like to, as there is little chance that we could get those elected to office to lift their heads from the government trough long enough to even consider such blasphemy.  Instead I would like to propose a mandatory limit on the length of time that any new law or regulation can remain in effect without being approved again.  Failing to gain that approval, such a law or regulation in question would be automatically rescinded.  Without seeking demand for a specific timetable, I would off the suggestion of three years for new legislation passed by Congress and one year for new regulations instituted by agencies and bureaucrats without the approval of Congress.

The time periods themselves are less important however than the concept of a forced review.  Suggesting a three year review for legislation should allow for the periodic party swings in the legislature.  If a law has merit, such merit and the law itself should prove easy to defend even amidst the pendulum swings of party public favor and renewal should still be all but assured.  Should such legislation prove over time to have been either inadequate or over-reaching, the three year period should prove sufficient to allow it to lapse with no loss of face to either party or the legislators who originally passed it.

As for regulations, since most do not go through the debate of 'elected officials' in the first place, the review process should come much quicker.  Legislators who have abrogated their Constitutionally mandated responsibility and authority to create law in this country would be forced to take up the issue of accountability that much quicker and at least attempt to do the will of the people; and be themselves judged for doing so.

In addition to addressing new laws, a process which likewise mandates the review of at least 10% of existing legislation should become a part of this obligation.  There are far too many confusing and contradictory laws and regulations on the books to allow for continued addition to their number.  A recognition of this fact and a way to force the a clean up of the issued cannot help but have a positive effect.  A mandatory review would likewise provide the incentive and political cover for elected officials to do so without jeopardizing their political futures.  It would likewise put agencies and bureaucrats on notice that their actions should not be unilaterally attempted without eventual consequences.

Now many might believe that placing Congress under such an enormous encumbrance would not allow them time to pass 'new' legislation or regulation.  So be it!  If one job was created or saved by virtue of bringing the runaway train of the national legislature under even that much control, it would be worth it.  Perhaps the burden of such a mandatory review would be just the caution that Congress requires before imposing its will in the way of new laws and rules. The national register (the list of federal regulations) is already over 81,000 pages long.  That single fact alone should dictate that it's far past time that something can and must be done to provide new limits.  The tax code is over 71,000 pages, far too complex for anyone to comprehend or be able to comply with.  Forcing Congress to review each law or regulation may be just the impetus that they need to simplify the entire tax code.

At the very least, adoption of such a proposal into the platform of one of the major political parties might scare potential candidates from taking on such a burden, and dissuade today's generation of professional politicians from seeking to return to the job.  Recognizing this as comparable 'Labors and Sisyphus' may allow some new blood to finally seep into the anemic arteries of a largely spineless group of lawmakers; thereby promoting the real hope and change that this country so desperately needs.

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