Speaking on the Senate floor this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered what may be the most concise summary of conservative constitutionalism ever spoken — America must rewrite the Constitution to force conservative outcomes because we the people consistently elect lawmakers who disagree with McConnell:
The time has come for a balanced budget amendment that forces Washington to balance its books. If these debt negotiations have convinced us of anything, it’s that we can’t leave it to politicians in Washington to make the difficult decisions that they need to get our fiscal house in order. The balanced budget amendment will do that for them. Now is the moment. No more games. No more gimmicks. The Constitution must be amended to keep the government in check. We’ve tried persuasion. We’ve tried negotiations. We’re tried elections. Nothing has worked.
It’s worth noting just what McConnell is asking the American people to choke down. Senate Republicans’ so-called “balanced budget amendment” does far more than simply requiring federal spending to equal federal revenues. It makes it functionally impossible to raise taxes by imposing a two-thirds supermajority requirement — a provision closely modeled after the California anti-tax amendment that blew up that state’s finances. It would also require spending cuts so steep that it would have made Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy unconstitutional. Ezra Klein rightfully labeled this plan the “worst idea in Washington.”
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So there really isn’t any question why the American people refuse to elect a Congress that will force this agenda upon the nation, but McConnell simply doesn’t care. If the American people won’t vote for the kind of government he wants, then we must strip away the people’s ability to choose their own government. Elections haven’t worked.
Sadly, McConnell’s deeply authoritarian plan to take away our ability to choose how we will be governed is part of a much larger conservative agenda to strip American democracy of any meaning and force conservative governance upon the American people:
- Affordable Care Act Litigation: In 2008, elections didn’t work because we the people elected Barack Obama and gave him the majorities he needed to comprehensively reform the health care system. Conservatives immediately responded with an entirely fabricated constitutional argument against this law that relied on a constitutional theory that no one had ever even heard of before 2009. Even Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a former Scalia clerk and a leader of the conservative states rights movement, rejected this meritless attack on the Affordable Care Act.
- Killing Medicare and Medicaid: In 1964, elections didn’t work, and the American people gave President Lyndon Johnson the congressional support he needed to enact Medicare and Medicaid. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) would take away the American people’s ability to benefit from this law as well. He claims that the Constitution must be reinterpreted so that the federal government can’t do anything at all about “health care.”
- Bringing Back Whites-Only Lunch Counters: In 1962, elections didn’t work, and the American people gave Johnson enough votes to pass a ban on whites-only lunch counters. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) disagrees with this outcome, so he would reinterpret the Constitution to make the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unconstitutional.
- Putting Children To Work: In 1936, elections didn’t work, and the American people reelected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and gave him an enormous supermajority in Congress. Roosevelt used this mandate to eliminate the exploitation of child labor. Sen. Lee also disagrees with this outcome, and would rethink the Constitution to make child labor laws unconstitutional.
- Cutting Students Loose: Time and time again, elections haven’t worked because the American people elected a Congress that supports education programs. Numerous members of Congress believe that all federal education programs — from Pell Grants to federal student loans to public school funding — must be eliminated entirely because, in Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) words, “I don’t even think [education] is a role for the federal government, if you read the Constitution.”
In other words, McConnell’s plan to strip we the people of our ability to govern ourselves is only the beginning. The right has a clear and comprehensive agenda to rethink the entire Constitution — and democracy has no part in their vision.