Editor’s Note: Article V of the United States Constitution requires Congress to “call a convention for proposing amendments” when called for by two-thirds of all state legislatures. Currently, 26 state resolutions proposing a balanced budget amendment (BBA) would count toward the two-thirds threshold of 34 states. Two other states have also passed BBA resolutions, and eight Republican-controlled legislatures are poised to pass BBA resolutions in 2017.
Health Care News Managing Editor Michael Hamilton asked Rob Natelson, senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute and the nation’s leading scholar on the Constitution’s amendment procedure, about the future of the Article V movement under President-elect Donald Trump and how a convention of states could influence national health care policy. Natelson has a background in politics, the private sector, and in academia.
Hamilton: Why hasn’t the country’s election of Trump reduced the importance of holding an Article V convention of states?
Natelson: The Trump administration may improve general policy, but it cannot really cure America’s systemic problems. Mr. Trump has made it clear spending levels will continue, and perhaps increase, under his administration, thereby aggravating our federal debt burden. Faster economic growth may result in the federal debt growing more slowly than before, but it will still grow. I don’t know of any economist who thinks we can cure the debt problem merely through economic growth.
Similarly, the Trump administration may adopt some regulatory reforms, but it cannot cure the constitutional fallacies that made over-regulation a seemingly permanent threat.
Hamilton: What strategy should Article V proponents use to make a convention of states a reality?
Natelson: We need more education about the scope of our problems, how addressing them surpasses any officeholder’s ability, and how Article V can address them. The Citizens for Self-Governance’s Convention of States simulation in 2016 and the balanced budget planning convention Tennessee lawmakers have proposed to host in Nashville in July 2017 will further that public education.
We must combine education with rigorous recruitment and political activism. Activism is important not merely to induce state legislatures to pass formal applications, but also to create a national political environment that will protect against opponents in Congress and elsewhere trying to mess with our constitutional right to a properly constituted amendments convention.
We also will have to counter the unrealistic view in some quarters that Mr. Trump’s election somehow will “cure” America’s systemic problems.
Hamilton: What strategies or habits should Article V proponents abandon?
Natelson: We talk too much to the converted, and we obsess too much over the anti-Article V fantasies disseminated by small fringe groups. Instead, Article V activists should reach out more to mainstream civic organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and Optimists—organizations filled with locally influential people concerned about America’s problems but still unaware of how Article V can help address those problems. We should do this on a nonpartisan basis and avoid strident rhetoric that alienates others.
Hamilton: What specific steps are activists and lawmakers taking to ensure an effective convention of states occurs?
Natelson: Grassroots Article V activists have mobilized in most states. For example, Colorado’s First Committee of Correspondence, which helped re-create the national Article V movement, continues to act as a clearinghouse for addressing issues and solutions and as a source of activists.
State lawmakers have been introducing resolutions for formal applications for a convention for proposing amendments, and increasingly, state legislatures have been passing them. State lawmakers and other policymakers have been preparing for a convention with help from the American Legislative Exchange Council and other organizations. Several groups have drafted proposed convention rules and principles and outlined possible constitutional amendments. Organizations—including Convention of States, the Balanced Budget Taskforce, and U.S. Term Limits—continue to provide education, political support, and ideas for specific amendments.
Hamilton: What would an Article V convention, if held in 2017 or 2018, probably produce?
Natelson: The first Article V convention may produce an amendment or two, and I suspect they will be “procedural” amendments that seek to address our federal debt, congressional logrolling [i.e., trading of votes], and the terms of federal officeholders.
A more important result will be to revive a fundamental right the Constitution gives us and to encourage Americans to use it.
Hamilton: How could the first Article V convention influence federal health care policy and spending?
Holding just one Article V convention—even if it does not produce an amendment or produces one that is not ratified—may chasten the more arrogant souls in Washington, DC. That makes it less likely Congress will afflict us with 2,000-page monstrosities like Obamacare. In other words, reform in areas such as health care may proceed more incrementally and with more attention to the desires of the American people and to our constitutional balance of power.
Michael T. Hamilton ([email protected]) is a Heartland Institute research fellow and managing editor of Health Care News, author of the weekly Consumer Power Report, and host of the Health Care News Podcast.
Rob Natelson, “A Brief Assessment of the Proposed Convention Rules Adopted by the Assembly of State Legislatures,” The Heartland Institute, August 17, 2016.
Kyle Maichle, “Amendment Allowing States to Repeal Obamacare Passes Convention Simulation,” Health Care News, The Heartland Institute, November 15, 2016.
Rob Natelson, The States’ Duty to Defend Against Federal Excess: James Madison and the Methods of “Interposition,” The Heartland Institute, July 5, 2016: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-states-duty-to-defend-against-federal-excess-james-madison-and-the-methods-of-interposition
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