SALT LAKE CITY — To the delight of many conservatives and tea partiers, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, formally introduced Thursday an amendment that could undo controversial federal laws like the recently passed health care reform, commonly referred to as Obamacare.
After Bishop and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., announced the proposal at a midday press conference in Washington, D.C., voices from across Utah's political landscape chimed in with support for the constitutional amendment--called the Repeal Ammendment--that would open the door for states to nullify federal provisions, laws and regulations such as Medicaid or No Child Left Behind.
A BYU law professor, however, cautions that the Repeal Amendment faces an uphill battle to ratification.
The amendment is so straightforward it only requires only 52 words: "Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed."
"The sole purpose of the Repeal Amendment," Bishop and Enzi wrote, "is to restore the balance of power in our system of government as provided in the original Constitution, reserving most of the power to the states and the people while still recognizing a federal role."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, believes that the Repeal Amendment could be used by states to push back against regulations from three federal entities in particular: the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Education and Department of the Interior.
"It's common sense, and it should have been a long time ago," Chaffetz said. "It's a good, creative way to tackle this challenge. States need to stand up for themselves (because) over the course of time, the federal government has grown too big and too powerful."
"Rob Bishop has helped lead the charge to limit the federal government intrusions. He's a natural one to lead out on this, and I hope over the course of time we can rally other people and the states behind it."
Utah Tea Party founder David Kirkham not only endorses the Repeal Amendment, but also believes the measure will elicit bipartisan support.
"Tea party people are very excited about this," Kirkham said. "I think a lot of people are supportive, and I think there should be support on both sides of the aisle for this. … I think that there's a big movement under foot on both sides for (giving) more control back to the states. A lot of tea party people and a lot of mainstream people will support that."
Utah Senate president Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, supports the legislation on the rationale that any federal regulation or law which 34 state legislatures reject ought to be subjected to further scrutiny.
"If you can round up people from enough states to where you get two-thirds of them, I think it would be an indication that the federal government has messed something up and it needs to be looked at again," Waddoups said.
Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, sees the Repeal Amendment as a way to give states more say regarding the federal regulations which exert great influence on state budgets. He ushered Medicaid reform through the Utah legislature earlier this year because Medicaid — a federal entitlement program for which there is no cap on the number of participants and all eligible applicants must be accepted — threatened the Beehive State's future financial solvency.
"When the states signed up for Medicaid," Liljenquist said, "we did not sign up for it to overtake and destroy our budgets. … I think it's worthwhile for states to be able to band together and say, 'Here's what we want done.'
"They're not saying that we can pass (federal) legislation, but when the federal government oversteps then that legislation could be overridden by the states."
Some wonder if the Repeal Amendment stands a real chance of passing muster. In the current political climate, BYU constitutional law professor Fred Gedicks forecasts a foreboding road to ratification for any constitutional amendment because such a proposal must secure a two-thirds vote from the House and the Senate, as well as approval from three-fourths of the state legislatures.
"It's pretty difficult to pass an amendment," Gedicks said. "There are 28 total amendments — 10 from the founding, and three from the Civil War. Outside of those two rather huge constitutional crises, that means it has only been amended 15 times in more than 200 years. That's pretty tough. …
"Thirteen states can block something like this. You need 67 senators — and you can imagine that there are a large number of senators that could be thinking, 'Hey, this undercuts my power as a senator. I want to be able to deliver to interest groups, and I don't want to be reversed by the states.' "
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