- - Sunday, June 12, 2016

In addition to commemorating the 651,031 Americans who lost their lives in wars, Memorial Day and other soon-to-be-celebrated patriotic commemorations — such as Flag Day and Independence Day — should inspire elected officials to act as soon as possible to hold an Article V convention to restore essential political safeguards that helped to make this nation great in the past.

Mismanagement and waste in government agencies, exemplified by the disastrous conditions at hospitals run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), show the need for serious reforms at the national level, changes that can’t be made through normal legislative processes.

The airmen, Marines, and soldiers who lost their lives in our nation’s armed conflicts would be ashamed of the current state of politics in America. Our national government faces an annual budget deficit of $511 billion and a national debt of $19.2 trillion. Although the Republican-controlled Congress has been working on a balanced budget amendment, a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress is necessary to approve a constitutional amendment, and the lack of Democrat co-sponsorship makes it all but impossible to achieve the needed reform.

This should not be a partisan issue. Americans of all political stripes are acknowledging their disgust with the current political gridlock. According to a poll released on May 19 by CBS News and The New York Times, 77 percent of people say they disapprove of the job performance of Congress.

The Department of Veterans Affairs alone has a budget of $163 billion for the 2016 fiscal year, a 10 percent increase over the 2015 fiscal year. However, only 31 percent of the $71.4 billion categorized as discretionary spending is going towards veterans’ care and only $4.9 billion for mental health care of Afghanistan and Iraqi war veterans. The 2016 budget shows the VA is not setting sensible priorities for our surviving veterans, many of whom will need years of care for the wounds they have suffered on the battlefield. A balanced budget amendment would force agencies to spend more wisely. In the VA’s case, the priority should be on veterans’ care, not financing a vast and grossly inept army of overpaid government bureaucrats.

The Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs has already established a sad legacy of abusing the taxpayers’ trust and operating a culture of mismanagement. The U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services hearings in 2014 revealed VA officials had covered up long wait times to make their records look better. The problem was widespread in cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, where veterans waited up to a year for a doctor and where 40 veterans died while waiting for lifesaving care.

Congress allocated $700 million for fiscal year 2016 to remedy the problem, but no amount of spending can fix the problem if government agencies are not forced to obey fiscal constraints that require them to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. That is why forcing government agencies such as the VA to live within their fiscal limits ensures better government services.

State governments across the nation that are fed up with mismanagement of the national government are now moving forward to call for an Article V convention in an effort to create a balanced budget amendment requirement. Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two ways for proposal of amendments: initiation by Congress or by the states. Thus far in American history, the states have never managed to propose an amendment, but that may be about to change.

At present, 28 states have enacted applications calling for a balanced budget amendment, and seven states have enacted applications calling for additional amendments to rein in the national government. One state, Alaska, has already enacted an application to give states the authority to override unconstitutional laws and regulations from the national government. State legislators are doing the job the Congress is not doing.

Six more states are needed to require Congress to call a convention. State legislators in Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, South Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming can ensure veterans and all citizens have a national government that is fiscally sound. The Article V process is a part of our constitution and creates no danger of radical change. It is designed to enable moderate changes to our Constitution to prevent disastrous policies from undermining the legitimacy and public acceptance of the national government. We’re dangerously close to such a situation, and we need moderate change now to avert a government implosion in the near future.

The amendments the Article V movement is proposing are our best hope to preserve the liberties and constitutional order for which our veterans have devoted — and, in many cases, sacrificed — their lives.

Kyle Maichle is a project manager of constitutional reform for The Heartland Institute.

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