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Extreme Constitution Makeover: Amendments of the New Congress

From removing presidential term limits to tweaking the First Amendment to make sure it doesn't apply to businesses.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

January 17, 2013 - 5:06 pm

Another January, another Congress, another plethora of bills aimed at changing the Constitution.

And it goes beyond the standard drive of fiscal conservatives to add a balanced budget amendment to the nation’s guiding document.

One New York Democrat — incidentally, a chum of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, who was able to remove every barrier to a lifetime presidency except his current illness — re-introduced a bill on the second day of the 113th Congress to remove presidential term limits.

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years after the date of its submission for ratification: `The twenty-second article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed,’” states the legislation introduced by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.). It has no co-sponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

The idea didn’t start during the term of President Obama, but that of the Democrat who served before him.

This bill is an old favorite of Serrano’s: he’s introduced it in the past eight Congresses, starting with the Bill Clinton years in 1997.

Of course, now that Clinton’s spent some time outside of the Oval Office, he’s in favor of repeal, too. “Shouldn’t a president be able to take two terms, take time off and run again?” Clinton said on MSNBC in November, though clarifying that he didn’t think it should be retroactive.

In 1995, 1997 and 1999, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), now minority whip, introduced his own bills to repeal presidential term limits. Like Serrano’s efforts, those didn’t go anywhere — but they did pick up a handful of co-sponsors, most no longer serving in the House.

On the other side of the aisle, conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has introduced a bill to repeal the 16th amendment, which gives Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

“The Founding Fathers envisioned a robust market based economy,” said King, “and our current tax policies do not encourage that system. Replacing the current income tax with a consumption tax will ensure that productivity is not punished in our country, but rewarded.”

He has one co-sponsor, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.).

Alabama Republican Rep. Martha Roby introduced one of the balanced budget amendments in the new Congress, pairing it with the reading of the Constitution on the House floor Tuesday.

It would prohibit federal expenditures from exceeding federal revenues within the same fiscal year and 20 percent of the gross domestic product for the preceding calendar year, with an exception for wartime. It would also require the president to, on time before each fiscal year, submit to Congress a proposed federal budget in which total outlays do not exceed total revenues received by the United States.

“Yesterday the president spent an hour lecturing Congress about ‘paying our bills.’ Well, one great way to ensure you can always pay your bills is to never charge up more than you can afford,” Roby said. “The spending reductions through entitlement reforms we’ve continued to seek are important and needed, but the long-term solution to our country’s debt problem is requiring Washington politicians to pass a balanced budget every year.”

Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), John Barrow (D-Ga.), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) have introduced their own balanced budget amendments, all on the first day of Congress.

Barrow introduced his bill with fellow Blue Dog Democrat Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“For decades, the federal government has written checks it can’t cover,” Barrow said. “We’ve reached a point where our debt is unsustainable, and unless we act now to get our finances in order, future generations will be forced to pay for this out of control spending.”

“This will take members from both sides of the aisle working together in good faith to tackle our budget problems and reduce the deficit, which will put us on the road to paying off our national debt,” Cuellar said.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) is trying to get a hand from the Constitution to keep the White House from continuously demanding debt ceiling increases.

His amendment, which would go into effect 10 years after ratification, stipulates “the United States government may not increase its debt except for a specific purpose by law adopted by three-fourths of the membership of each House of Congress.”

Donna Christensen (D), freshly sworn in to her ninth term as the delegate representing the U.S. Virgin Islands, proposed an amendment stating that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote in the election for President and Vice President shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of residency in a territory or commonwealth of the United States.”

“The over 4 million citizens in the U.S. territories are among the most patriotic Americans you will find anywhere in our country,” she said.

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced constitutional term limits for members of Congress: four terms for members of the House, and two terms for senators.

Amendment or no amendment, Fitzpatrick, who was elected in 2010, has pledged to impose the term limit on himself.

The congressman called his measure a “step in the right direction” to restoring the public’s faith in Congress.

And in an effort to beat back a Supreme Court ruling with a constitutional makeover, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who easily fended off a challenge from Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher in November, introduced a trio of constitutional amendments on campaign finance.

One amendment would give Congress power to “set limits on the amount of contributions that may be accepted by, and the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office,” with the same power allocated to states for local and state races.

The second states that “the first article of amendment does not apply to the political speech of any corporation, partnership, business trust, association, or other business organization with respect to the making of contributions, expenditures, or other disbursements of funds in connection with public elections.”

And the final amendment combines the first two, “waiving the application of the first article of amendment to the political speech of corporations and other business organizations with respect to the disbursement of funds in connection with public elections and granting Congress and the States the power to establish limits on contributions and expenditures in elections for public office.”

The Move to Amend group has similarly been seeking to squash the Citizens United ruling by constitutional change.

“We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights,” the group says in its mission statement. “The Supreme Court is misguided in principle, and wrong on the law. In a democracy, the people rule.”

Kaptur introduced her amendments without comment.

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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