Great Presidents change history. As President, Washington created the national government. Lincoln saved the Union and passed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. Wilson and the Progressives gave us the Federal Reserve, the income tax and the 17th Amendment. Franklin Roosevelt created the welfare state and social security. Reagan won the Cold War.
If Trump is to be a great President, he must do more than cut taxes and regulations, and revive the economy. Those are temporary, and reversible, accomplishments. To set his stamp on our history, President Trump needs an enduring, permanent legacy.
A Balanced Budget Amendment could set the nation’s financial house in order for a hundred years. It could establish a Congressional budget process which would constitute the greatest institutional reform of Congress in history. It could be the foundation of generations of prosperity. And if it were adopted using Article V of the Constitution it would be the greatest devolution of power, from Congress to the States, in all our history.
Trump opposed Article V in the 2016 Republican primaries in order to gain the support of Phylis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum. Schlafly is dead and Trump has no need of the Eagle Forum. He’s been flexible in his transition from candidate to President on a number of issues. Changing his mind on Article V will surprise no one.
He should act now, because 2018 may be the last of an extraordinary political period. From 2014 to 2018 Republicans have controlled enough state legislatures to pass the needed 34 state resolutions for a BBA Amendment Convention without any Democratic help. When the West Virginia Senate unexpectedly flipped Republican in the 2014 election, there were just enough states to do it. The 2016 elections gave the Democrats Nevada and New Mexico, but were offset by Republican gains in Kentucky and Minnesota. Thanks to a coin flip in Virginia, in 2018 we still have just enough states to do it (Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia and South Carolina).
Trump can guarantee that any Amendment Convention will not run away. He’ll prevent it, or ignore it. Without his support, no Amendment can realistically be ratified. He has a political veto, and with that veto will have the power to control the formulation of the Amendment. In political reality, Trump and his supporters will control the Amendment Convention. It’s no great exaggeration to say that Trump can write the Amendment himself.
The 2017 Phoenix Convention of States gave us a preview of the Amendment Convention. President Trump has more support within the state legislatures of this country than in any other political institution. The Trump Caucus of the Amendment Convention will dominate it.
This represents a political opportunity for the President to run against, and around, Congress and its leadership. They are the problem. Under the President’s leadership, the states can constitutionally usurp the power of Congress. In any fight between Congress and the President, the states can take the President’s side, and prevail.
Setting that precedent might be the most important of all.