Tuesday morning, a capacity crowd in conference room number 169 of the Capitol Annex in Frankfort witnessed the flat-out and unapologetic manipulation of a government proceeding for political gain.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 134 (SCR134) came before the Senate Committee on State and Local Governments under a gray February sky. The conference room itself suffered under the weight of hot, stale air and generally bad ideas.
SCR134 is a mind-numbing and treacherous resolution that encourages the federal government to amend the U.S. Constitution to adopt a balanced budget amendment.
Twenty-two states have taken up similar measures.
Zero have passed.
Introduced by Williams himself, the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission lists the resolution as such:
Urge Congress to call an Article V convention for the purpose of proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States requiring a balanced federal budget.
If it were only that simple.
After 30 minutes of room preparation by aides and interesting side-bar conversations among attendees, the hearing was called to order.
As U.S. Sen. Rand Paul reportedly watched the happenings from a “remote location,” senate president and gubernatorial candidate David Williams began his predictably arrogant testimony before the committee.
After Williams zipped through a prepared statement in which he blathered on about a “firewall” to “protect” taxpayers from the U.S. Congress, State Sen. Gerald Neal (D., Louisville) expressed his view that “… we are opening Pandora’s Box… , “then asked Williams, “Are you saying that Congress is incapable of controlling spending on its own accord?”
Williams replied yes, but not before making a crude reference to “Pandora and her box.”
The grand display of presumptuousness continued as Williams interrupted Neal on several occasions before finally exclaiming, “Congress caused this current economic crisis.”
When Rand Paul – accompanied by a brace of large and menacing State Troopers – finally arrived on the scene, the stage had been set for the ultimate ruse. Williams and Paul continued to invoke a shopworn “state’s rights” tactic in a manner and intensity not seen since the Civil War era.
When Sen. Neal pressed Paul, “You must concede this is not the only way. There is a real concern here when there are other methods available other than amending the Constitution,” Paul replied by saying both sides have been “irresponsible” and that “neither side is addressing this issue. By voting for this, you pressure Congress to do the right thing.”
State Sen. Walter “Doc” Blevins, (D., Morehead) stomped hard on the proposal, saying that in times of economic turmoil Kentucky’s poorest would suffer the most. Blevins noted Kentucky receives $1.68 for every $1 sent to Washington in federal taxes, saying “That’s a good deal for Kentucky.”
Many in the room called the move a badly planned bluff designed by David Williams to get free television time and newspaper coverage to advance his campaign for governor.
Opponents of the measure were out in force and included conservatives, trade unions and a Kentucky-based economic think-tank.
Take Back Kentucky, a Tea Party group, contends that the invocation of a Constitutional Convention is a “blatant act of hypocrisy” and that a constitutional convention cannot be controlled by Congress, leaving the entire constitution open to revision.
Both Williams and Paul disagreed on that notion, saying they believed limits could be placed on a convention’s focus, despite hearing much evidence to the contrary.
Jason Bailey, Director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, alleges that Paul’s “balanced budget” would cut $1 billion from education in Kentucky annually. Bailey’s testimony also included figures from the Center’s “Fact Sheet”(PDF).
Bailey stated the obvious in plain language: When the economy tanks and people aren’t paying taxes because they have lost their jobs, government safety-net spending increases. It has to. If this scheme were to come to fruition, state and federal governments would not be able to meet the needs of the public, thereby prolonging or making worse any recession.
Dr. Homer White, speaking on behalf of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, expressed an eloquent view on hard times in Kentucky: Legislators should spend their valuable session time on the real problems that confront Kentucky, problems regarding which they have the local wisdom and local authority to act effectively.
All of these were nice ideas. None of them, however, were taken into account by the time the committee voted.
The committee passed the measure, 7-3 on a party-line vote. The measure continued on to the full Senate, where it passed 22-16.
Members of the Kentucky House of Representatives have said the resolution is dead on arrival.
In the final analysis, it is clear that this was a large political stunt staged by Williams and Rand Paul to provide a neatly packaged photo-op as well as a chance for Williams to comb through Rand Paul’s Rolodex of rich, out-of-state contributors.
They came to take their country back, but it’s politics as usual in Frankfort, Kentucky.