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Should states have a voice in the federal government?

By Henry Lamb
web posted January 10, 2011

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The states created the federal government; they designed it carefully to be sure that the federal government could never gain unlimited power to govern as a tyrant.  Today, however, the federal government recognizes no limitations on its power, it issues edicts to states and individuals alike, with no fear of retribution.  It has gained the power to rule as a tyrant – and does.

The creators of our government knew well, that should the new federal government go unchecked, that in time it would become as tyrannical as King George III.  This is precisely why the founders gave the Senate to the state legislatures.  The people elected representatives; the state legislatures chose their own Senators.  With the states in control of the Senate, the founders gave the Senate the responsibility of approving all executive appointments to the cabinet and to the federal bench.  The Senate alone was given the responsibility of approving all international treaties.  The Senate – chosen by state legislatures – was given the responsibility to approve all laws enacted by the House of Representatives.

These extraordinary men who created the United States of America insisted that the states have a decisive voice in the federal government.  The Senate – chosen by state legislatures – was the balance that restrained the federal government from becoming the tyrant the founders feared.

The Progressive movement saw this restraint on federal power as an impediment to their goals, and convinced the electorate that it would be more democratic to allow the people to elect Senators.  In 1913, when the 17th Amendment was ratified, the States were kicked out of the federal government they created.

The first argument against repealing the 17th Amendment is often the same argument used to get the amendment ratified in the first place: Progressives said it is more democratic for the people to elect their Senators than to have state legislatures choose the Senators. 

Two questions must be confronted:  exactly how is democracy diminished if the people elect the state legislatures that choose the Senators?  The second question requires some deep soul searching by anyone who opposes repealing the 17th Amendment. Opponents must ask:  am I better qualified to determine how government should be structured than George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, Roger Sherman, and the other great men who wrote the Constitution?

The founders debated extensively the virtues of a Senate elected by the people, or a Senate elected by the state legislatures.  The founders decided a Senate chosen by state legislatures would have both the power and motivation to restrain the federal government.

Those who oppose repealing the 17th Amendment must believe that they know better how to build a government than did the founders, and that the federal government needs no restraint.

The Senate is a powerful governmental body.  It can block any legislation; any treaty; any executive appointment.  For whom is this power dispensed?   To whom is this power accountable?  Senators are responsive, and responsible to – the people who provide the funding they need to fool the people who actually vote. 

It's hard enough to get the attention of a Representative, who answers to about 650,000 people in a district.  Try getting through to a Senator, who, in California, represents about 34- million people.    Senators have to have enough money to present a professionally produced image as a good politician.  Funding of this magnitude comes from labor unions, lobbyists, and fat-cats.     To test this theory, use the Freedom of Information Act to secure the phone and email records of your Senators and see whose phone calls and emails they answer.

Senators spend far too much of their time fund raising.  Were Senators to be elected by state legislatures – as the original Constitution required – they would not need to spend any time chasing money; they could devote all their time to reading the 2,000-page bills that are becoming more commonplace.  They could spend more time discussing with their state legislators how these monstrous bills might impact the state, and the state's citizens.  They could put the brakes on an out-of-control federal government.

For all the talk about limited government, the 10th Amendment, and the 17th Amendment, Progressives, and much of the media, ridicule the idea the founders thought to be absolutely critical to the structure of a self-correcting government.  Conservatives, who privately tell their friends that the 17th Amendment should be repealed, are reluctant to say publicly what they say privately, for fear of ridicule and condescension by the likes of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

Until the 17th Amendment is repealed, and state governments are re-empowered to put the brakes on a run-away federal government, expect the government to continue expanding its abuse of power.  Expect the agencies of government to continue to legislate by regulation.  Expect judicial appointments of Progressives who agree that the federal government should have no limits on its power. Not until the 17th Amendment is repealed, and the states are given back their seat at the federal table, can we begin to return to the Republic our founders created, and begin to restore the freedoms that have been lost. ESR

Henry Lamb is the author of "The Rise of Global Governance,"  Chairman of Sovereignty International , and founder of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO) and Freedom21, Inc.

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