General Assembly Issue Three: Restoring The Balance Of Power

This is the third in a series about key issues facing this year’s General Assembly. Issue One, Life Defined And Protected, was posted Tuesday and Issue Two, Eliminate ObamaCare Induced Abortion Funding In Virginia, was posted yesterday.

It's the word of the day — federalism. Few Americans have any idea what it actually means or know its historical origins, but with the massive expansion of the federal government since the election of President Obama, more people are learning. From the government take over of health care, student loans and auto companies, to bailouts of banks, AIG and Fannie Mac and Freddie Mae, we have seen an unprecedented expansion of federal power.

Essentially, federalism means that the federal government will do what it is constitutionally empowered to do, and the states will take care of their own business. It has long been forgotten that the federal government exists at the mercy of the states or, as per the constitution, "to the people" — not the other way around. The government was meant to be our servant (thus the term "public service"), but now Washington has become the master, controlling aspects of life and the economy once thought preposterous, and demanding us to feed it with ever more of our heard earned money and compliance with its controls on our liberty.

But as the federal government explodes in size and power, some efforts are being undertaken to attempt to restore at least some balance of power (see Pat McSweeney's Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed). The recent elections are evidence that while Americans may not be entirely familiar with federalism, they support it.

In Virginia, an effort to restore federalism is being led by House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksburg) through a repeal amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The repeal amendment would simply allow for any federal law — ObamaCare, for example — to be repealed if two-thirds of the states agree on the repeal. You might say it's a bill to protect "fly over country" from ideas that start in New York and California.

The Family Foundation supports this effort. We believe that there is an important role for the federal government but that its jurisdiction is limited. A repeal amendment would be a step toward restoring the intent of the constitution.

A concern is that the resolution calls for the ratification of this amendment through a constitutional convention, rather than through the congressional-state legislative ratification process. While some think a convention could have unintended consequences, any effort to do so can be limited to this issue alone. Frankly, the constitution is being misinterpreted by the courts and federal government just about every day. The repeal amendment would give states the ability to correct some of those misinterpretations.

Senators Ryan McDougle (R-4, Mechanicsville) and Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester), and Delegate Jim LeMunyon (R-67, Oak Hill) have introduced legislation (SJ 280 and HJ 542, respectively) requiring Congress to call a convention to add the repeal amendment to the constitution. At least two-thirds of the states would have to pass similar resolutions before Congress must act.

Our Founding Fathers understood the need for a system of checks and balances — both within the federal government (executive, legislative and judicial) — and between the federal government and the states that created it. The repeal amendment would be another tool that could be used to protect our freedoms and ensure that balance is restored.