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Discipline of the Federal Fisc – Article V

Discipline of the Federal Fisc – Article V

Washington’s continued profligacy is driving – or renewing – efforts to impose fiscal discipline through a balanced budget amendment initiated by the states.

In their wisdom, our Founders provided two ways to propose amendments in Article V of the US Constitution: by Congress with a two-thirds vote of each House, or pursuant to the action of a convention of the states to be convened by Congress per resolutions of two-thirds of the states on a particular subject (or multiple subjects, if the state calls were plenary in nature). Recent publicity on a “state compact” approach in the use of Article V state balanced budget amendment resolutions offers an opportunity to provide an update or “status report” on this process key to the fiscal future of our Nation.

More than 30 years ago a vigorous Article V balanced budget amendment state resolution effort was launched. In August 1982 we succeeded in passing President Ronald Reagan’s Tax Limitation/Balanced Budget Amendment (S.J. Res 58) in the US Senate, only to have it ambushed in Tip O’Neal’s liberal House of Representatives.

That precipitated an intensified effort at the state level for balanced budget Article V resolutions, reaching some 32 resolutions before an unholy alliance of left and right wing organizations began organizing rescissions. The Article V state resolution effort ran aground on the shoals of claims/fears of a “runaway convention” and lay dormant for decades. Had we been able to convene a convention for proposing a balanced budget amendment at that time, which would have been surely quickly ratified, the national debt would be a mere fraction of what it is today and the economy much stronger.

Unfortunately, federal spending and deficits have soared and Washington’s power and invasiveness in the lives and businesses of our people has exploded, giving rise to the Tea Party movement and a renewed interest in constraining Washington and restoring constitutional discipline. As a result, a new Article V state resolution campaign for a balanced budget amendment has been launched.  Because Ronald Reagan so favored the Article V state resolution process, the renewed effort is now labeled “The Reagan Project.”

In 2010, starting from a base of 16 valid and subsisting (un-repealed) state resolutions, the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, led by David Biddulph of Florida and Scott Rogers of Virginia (full disclosure –I am part of this Task Force) has been adding state resolutions at a startling pace. The latest state – Michigan – Number 23 – and Ohio – Number 20 (approved last Fall) – had never before approved such a resolution.

The recent success of the movement has been aided by the wise counsel and aggressive legislative testimony of William H. Fruth, former Mayor of Tiffin, Ohio, owner of a Palm City, Florida, economic advisory company, as well as the participation and advice of Dr. Barry Poulson, former Chairman of the Economic Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Constitutional lawyer/authority Rob Natelson with the Independent Institute, Golden, Colorado, and advisor to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Washington, DC, has given solid constitutional momentum to the effort.

One of the most significant impacts from earlier state resolution efforts has been the involvement of so many concerned citizens (a real grassroots movement). Motivated and “Totally Engaged Americans” have become a potent ingredient of our recent success.  They all believe we are heading to national bankruptcy. Moreover, they believe that Congress is the source of the problem, and not a solution.  Once they learn about Article V and the ability to amend the Constitution with a balanced budget amendment, they experience a sense of hope and relief… and become very motivated to support our efforts. The “I Am American.org” organization has led the charge. They have been very successful at connecting with, educating, organizing and motivating ordinary citizens and the grassroots communities. Their educational and motivating rallies and road show presentations (led by “Typhoon” Lou Marin and Loren Enns from Florida) have been the backbone and key ingredient to our success.

The refreshing dimension of the new grassroots Article V support base: they believe in the efficacy – even sanctity – of the entire Constitution, not just everything in it except one-half of Article V. They do not fear, but embrace – state resolution power to force fiscal discipline on Washington.

With growing interest in an Article V convention, a group of legislative leaders from four states took it upon themselves to organize the “Mount Vernon Assembly” on December 7, 2013.  More than 100 legislators from 30 states met at George Washington’s home to begin the process of creating rules for an amendment convention. This is the first time legislators have met as “states” to discuss amending the Constitution since 1861. A second assembly will be held in June at the Indiana Statehouse.

There are friendly competitors to the main Article V balanced budget amendment state resolution effort:

(1)  A state “compact” process is being promoted by a very devoted and thoughtful constitutional authority from the Goldwater Institute of Arizona, Nick Dranias. Nick has prepared the precise language of a constitutional amendment he would impose on an Article V convention (on the premise that “we want to take no chances about the outcome”). There are several problems with this compact approach:

-         It requires starting over with state resolutions – he is working in three states now – instead of  building on the base of 23 existing Article V state resolutions;

-         The amendment he has designed and would impose on our Nation starts as a classical balanced budget amendment for the year in question when revenues are unknowable, rather than as a spending limit over multiple years; it is very complicated and technical,  more statutory than constitutional language; and it would empower a majority of the states to authorize an increase in the federal debt, a threshold unlikely to be tougher than a congressional vote to increase the debt limit;

-         It is not clear that this compact escapes the constitutional requirement for congressional approval of the compact, which it does not now have.

-         Our constitutional advisors – the best in the business – urge that we not try to impose a particular amendment design on the convention, because such a convention must have true deliberative authority and freedom in order to avoid subsequent legal challenges to its work product. We have enough guidance through Ronald Reagan’s S.J. Res. 58, which passed the US Senate in 1982, and other design elements – to come out with a great work product for America’s future (the model state Article V balanced budget amendment resolution, which is being enacted in the states, opens up the convention to more fiscal control options than a strict, year-to-year balanced budget).

(2)  The recent publication of Mark R. Levin’s great work – “The Liberty Amendments,” and the formation of the group, “Alliance for Self Governance,” led by Mark Mechler and Mike Ferris – are incredible additions to the conservative arsenal aimed at restoring the Constitution. The only problem is that urging multiple changes to our Constitution, even one-by-one, simply feeds fears of the runaway convention crowd.  We think it would be better if they simply organized for – but did not promote – multiple amendments.  Let the Balanced Budget Amendment Article V Task Force achieve resolutions in 34 states (which could be as early as 2015). This will trigger Congress’s call for a convention, which will then deliberate on and draft a proper federal fiscal discipline amendment which Congress will send to the states for ratification. State power under Article V will be opened like a spigot for other discrete, thoughtful and powerful reforms of a runaway Washington, DC, as suggested by Levin and others.

When the balanced budget amendment Article V state resolution effort was renewed a couple of years ago, the 16 valid and subsisting state resolutions, included those from: AK, NV, CO, NM, TX, KS, NE, IA, MO, AR, MS, NC, IN, PA, DE and MD . In 2011 AL passed a balanced budget amendment application, and NH followed on 2012. Last Fall, there was renewed momentum with OH and recently GA, MI, TN, and this week FL revalidated its earlier resolution. That’s 23 of 34 states necessary. One or the other house of the legislature has approved the Article V resolution in AZ, WI and SC. Other target states include:  OR, ID, MT, WY, UT, ND, SD, OK, LA, KY, WV, VA and ME. We are working with legislators and others in all those states, but the movement needs all the help we can get.

Anyone wanting to join the effort, please email the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force as follows:  David Biddulph @BBA4USA.org, or Lew.Uhler@limittaxes.org.  Phone contact:  Balanced Budget Amendment Tax Force (386-478-304); Lew Uhler (916-765-9172)

Lew Uhler is founder and President of the National Tax Limitation Committee (NTLC), one of the Nation’s leading grassroots taxpayer lobbies, and its companion 501c3 organization, the National Tax Limitation Foundation. 

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