Watts: A Letter From the Future Constitutional Republic
by Tyler Watts, Ph.D.
Dear President Obama:
This may sound strange to you coming from someone like me, but here goes: Thanks for awakening the American people to the dangers of excessive government. Your actions raised an alarm that inaugurated the most radical fiscal reform in America since the 16th Amendment.
Let me explain. Your presidency brought the term “trillion-dollar deficit” into our vocabulary and oversaw a doubling of the national debt. While politicians had long professed concern about burdening our children and grandchildren, the uncommon deficits and debt over which you presided woke people up, made them take notice of the future implications of higher taxes, inflation and lower economic growth. They began to demand action from their elected representatives. At the same time, state governments were chafing under a massive regulatory and entitlement burden imposed by the federal government. Like the debt, this burden had been growing slowly for decades before your Obamacare upped the ante of what came to be known as a federal corporatist-welfare system.
You front-loaded the most popular features of your healthcare system and back-ended the costs while dumping the administrative burden on the states through actuarial exchanges. This, ironically, only catalyzed the states’ frustration with the federal government. State legislatures, already motivated by public alarm over the rapid growth of government, asserted themselves against federal domination under a banner of reinvigorated federalism.
And this brings us to the reforms and restoration of constitutional balance. Many of us now realize these would never have succeeded without the negative examples your programs supplied.
It began with widespread awareness of the need for fiscal restraint. Frankly, some of us had wrongly given up hope. Public-choice economics and 70 years of peacetime deficit spending had confirmed the cynical notion that Congress would never reform itself; a balanced budget requirement would have to be imposed from outside. But we couldn’t see how.
Thankfully, the Founding Fathers left us the perfect tool: the Article V constitutional-amendment process. As soon as two-thirds of the state legislatures (34 states) called for a convention to propose one specific amendment, real reform was on the table — and Congress couldn’t stop it. When that 34th state legislature added its name to the list, American renewal began.
While it was a long, deliberate process for these states to craft a balanced-budget amendment with teeth, it was done. Fortunately, the groundwork had been laid by wise leaders in the state governments years before. By the final year of your presidency, the amendment was on its way to ratification.
Now comes the hard part: making the actual budget cuts that will eliminate the deficit, pay down the national debt, and ensure future prosperity won’t be wrecked by high taxes, high inflation and federal micro-management of the economy. And while your successor is an able leader, abetted by some great new people in Congress, there is now no excuse for ongoing deficits. They all know that if they don’t balance the budget, the Supreme Court will force them to do so.
They’ve begun to make those “tough choices” that politicians back in your day only talked about. Proposals to raise the Social Security age, to impose strict means-testing on entitlement benefits, and to reduce military spending to a reasonable level are on their way to approval.
Again, sir, we owe you a debt of gratitude for sparking this whole process through your bold actions a decade ago. Without your radical expansion of the size and scope of government, revealed to the people through the traumatically large debt and deficits, the cancerous growth of big government might have gone on at its slow pace, relatively unnoticed, until the country was racked by a sudden fiscal crisis.
Thanks to the symptoms of big government that your policies revealed, we got early detection of the government tumor, and sought proper treatment with the powerful Article V medicine. Now, government is being scaled back and the economy is growing as never before. Thank you again, Mr. President, for inspiring this grand adventure.
Tyler Watts, Ph.D., is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and director of the Free Market Institute at East Texas Baptist University, earning a doctorate from George Mason University. He is the author of “Our Constitutional Moment,” which can be accessed at www.inpolicy.org.