AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s congressional delegation is decidedly cool to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow two-thirds of the states to overturn any act of Congress, a measure that has support of leaders of the new GOP majority in the House of Representatives.
“It’s not going to pass in Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. “The votes are definitely not there. As Congress, I think we should focus our attention on the economy and try to get things moving again.”
He said the proposed amendment has gained some support because of Congress passing legislation that has put mandates on the states without paying for those mandates. He said supporters should focus on repealing legislation that includes unfunded mandates instead of trying to change the Constitution.
“I think we have to fund those unfunded mandates and give the states the flexibility to implement programs,” Michaud said
The proposal was first made by noted law professor Randy Barnett at Georgetown University. He believes state legislatures will embrace the amendment as a way to curb the authority of Congress to force the states to implement programs they do not want or cannot afford.
“This seems to be pushed by the tea party Republicans,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, “This really goes back to a question that honestly we argued over during the Civil War. Could a state undo a law that the federal government passed? That was the law that outlawed slavery.”
She said such an amendment could have huge negative consequences for the country, so she does not believe it will be adopted by Congress, let alone by the states.
“Let’s say some states say they are not going to pay any more federal income taxes, they are going to outlaw them,” Pingree said. “That would mean some states are not paying for the common defense or covering Medicare or taking care of our veterans, and other states would have to pay for them.”
She said the proposal could become a “diversion” from the important issues of health care and financial reform that Congress should be dealing with to help the nation recover from the recession.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe R-Maine, said that while she has read about the proposal, she has not spent the time researching it or its implications. She said she doubted it would be approved because of the process needed to adopt an amendment to the Constitution. Both the House and Senate must approve a proposed amendment and then 38 of the 50 state legislatures would have to pass the amendment for it to be added to the Constitution.
“As one who has pushed adoption of the amendment to require a balanced budget, I know how difficult it is to get it passed,” she said. “I happen to think that amendment has to be foremost. We need to have that amendment to bring our fiscal house in order.”
Snowe said she will continue to push for passage of the balanced budget amendment that would put the federal budget on the same basis as nearly all the states, requiring that spending be paid for and a ban on budget deficits.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, agreed that Congress should be cautious before proposing any amendment to the Constitution.
“I am wary of resorting to changing the Constitution to solve a problem like this one,” she said. “This is really being pushed by those that want to repeal the health care reform law and there are better ways to address that issue.”
Collins said she supports repealing the law and replacing it with better legislation that addresses the need to reform without the mandates and bureaucracy in the current law.
“My concern is that there would be unintended consequences from a constitutional amendment,” she said. “Such an amendment might upset the checks and balances that are in the Constitution.”
While constitutional amendments usually start in Congress, state legislatures can also initiate a process to change the U.S. Constitution. If two-thirds of the states propose a constitutional convention, they can also propose amendments. In any case, it takes a three-fourths vote of the states to approve any amendment to the Constitution.