Proposed U.S. Constitutional Debt Relief Amendment Gains Support

Published December 13, 2010

When James Booth of Dallas, Texas called Glenn Hughes of Scottsdale, Arizona about a business opportunity a year ago, he had no idea he would soon be talking about amending the United States Constitution.

Both men had been concerned for many years about the course the nation had taken, with its growing federal government debt and power. Booth came upon the realization a decade ago as he struggled to balance his business’s payroll deduction numbers, concluding he had become a slave to the federal government.

“It was late one night. I was exhausted. I was hungry. I hadn’t seen my family. I couldn’t afford the penalties if I got the report in late, and I realized I was doing this for the federal government without any compensation,” said Booth.

Joined Forces
Hughes had similar concerns and had been looking for ideas of ways to rein in federal government power and protect future generations from government debt. He told Booth about his efforts, and they discussed and debated ideas they had each been working on for years. That began a collaboration that culminated in the National Debt Relief Amendment.

“Neither of us was willing to stop the exercise,” said Booth. “It was on March 12, 2010 that we wrote the amendment,” said Hughes. “Since then, as we’ve consulted with experts, we’ve made only three changes.”

National Debt Relief Amendment
The National Debt Relief Amendment (NDRA) is a proposed 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It states: “An increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate States.” The amendment and supporting information can be found at

The NDRA is intended to use state power to check federal government power, which its proponents argue was intended by the founding fathers but has been eroded over time. Booth, who has an extensive background working in large corporations, pointed out, “You can’t have a massive corporation run by a central authority. Decisions have to be decentralized at different levels.”

Hughes sounded a similar theme. “The only way to maintain freedom is for state legislators to step up,” he said. “This amendment, unlike some other good proposals, does not require courts to enforce it. The states will do it,” he said.

Concerns About Convention
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the NDRA movement is the effort to get it proposed through an amendments convention under Article V of the United States Constitution. This amendment method requires an application to Congress of two-thirds of the states for Congress to call a convention for proposing Amendments to the constitution. Any amendments proposed by the convention would then have to be approved by three quarters, or 38, of the states.

Some worry a convention might “run away.” They cite the convention that was called to amend the Articles of Confederation, which went on to write the current Constitution, effectively ignoring the Articles in the process.

North Dakota State Senator Curtis Olafson (R-Edinburg), a strong supporter of the NDRA, said he believes state legislators would appoint reasonable people with strong public backgrounds.

“But suppose the bizarre happens,” he said of the runaway scenario. “Their actions would still have to be ratified by 38 states.”

Hamilton Cited
Nick Dranias, director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Constitutional Government, says fears of a runaway amendments convention are unfounded.

“We have published studies from legal scholar Rob Natelson that show beyond a shadow of doubt that limits can and will be placed on an amendments convention,” he said.

“Besides,” added Dranias, “right now, every time Congress meets we effectively have a convention. Alexander Hamilton, no friend of state sovereignty, said in Federalist Number 85 that the solution to overreaching by Congress is an amendments convention.”

Bipartisan Support
Despite objections to an Article V amendments convention, model legislation calling for a convention to include the NDRA in the United States Constitution recently passed the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The measure still has to be approved by that organization’s board.

Olafson has a Democrat cosponsor for the NDRA in the state Senate and says the measure has been received well by legislators on both sides of the aisle. He expresses optimism the NDRA will receive widespread support. His only real opposition, he says, has been from the John Birch Society, which has concerns about a runaway convention.

Arizona State Senator Chuck Gray (R-Mesa), the NDRA’s first legislative supporter, says he is confident the measure will gain bipartisan support.

“Debt affects everybody,” he said. “There are always questions from people with different ideologies, but we have answered them in every case.”

“My intent,” Gray added, “is that legislators across this nation will step forward in the name of state sovereignty and federalism to apply to Congress to call the convention and save this nation.”

Byron Schlomach ([email protected]) is director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.