The United States is facing a fiscal crisis. In the past year alone, total outstanding public debt has grown by over $800 billion, from $19.8 trillion in February 2017, to $20.6 trillion in February 2018. More problematic, the true value of unfunded liabilities in programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are estimated to be anywhere from $46.7 trillion to $210 trillion.
In light of the federal government’s failure to address this fiscal calamity, states are using Article V of the U.S. Constitution to propose amendments to the Constitution. Under Article V, two-thirds of the states, currently 34, must approve and submit applications to Congress before a convention of the states can be called. If a convention is called, states, without the approval of Congress, can pass amendments to the Constitution, which would then need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states, currently 38.
Lawmakers in Washington State have introduced several proposals calling for an Article V convention. Recently, state Rep. Cary Condotta (R-Wenatchee) introduced a resolution that calls for a convention of states for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
This type of legislation dates back to the 1950s, when Indiana submitted a resolution to Congress calling for such a convention. Wyoming submitted similar legislation in 1961. In the 1970s, “the movement for a balanced budget amendment came to life … when it became apparent that the federal government was facing seemingly endless deficits.” Since then states have submitted, and some have rescinded, applications calling for the single-item amendment. Currently, there are 28 active applications.
State Rep. Jesse Young (R-Gig Harbor) and state Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center) introduced Article V legislation in the House and the Senate, respectively. Their resolutions call for an Article V convention to propose amendments “that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.” Currently, 11 states have passed similar resolutions. Twenty-eight states considered the measure in 2017.
Opponents of Article V reform efforts argue an Article V convention could lead to a runaway convention in which the appointed delegates disregard their authority and pass a slew of dangerous amendments. Constitutional law scholar Rob Natelson finds these fears to be unfounded. Natelson argues there are “redundant protections against a runaway convention.” These protections include political factors, provisions in states’ applications, the potential for a lawsuit, the presence of legally binding instructions given to commissioners at the convention that would be enforced by the states, and “the potential for more judicial challenge, at every step of the process.”
As officials elected to represent the best interests of the American people, it is imperative state lawmakers take notice of the ever-increasing debt of the federal government. Washington State lawmakers should consider the costs to the citizens of the Evergreen State that are associated with Washington, DC’s out-of-control spending. The best way to respond to these costs is to utilize constitutionally backed reform efforts to rein in the ostentatious actions of the federal government.
The following articles provide additional information on constitutional reform.
Article V Quick Reference Guide
Kyle Maichle, The Heartland Institute’s project manager for constitutional reform, authored the Article V Quick Reference Guide to provide important information about the constitutional reform movement and process to advocates, legislators, and policy experts. This guide describes how the Article V convention process works. As Maichle explains, the process consists of state legislatures enacting applications; Congress receiving the applications; and states agreeing to convention logistics, setting out voting rules, and ratifying an amendment that has been agreed to by the states. It also provides reasons for calling a convention and rebuts some of the most commonly used falsehoods made by opponents.
Research & Commentary: A Primer on the Constitutional Reform Movement
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland state government relations manager Lindsey Stroud examines two constitutional reform groups, the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force and the Convention of States. Both groups have been active in the passage of state applications calling for an Article V convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the United States Constitution. Stroud examines their history and current efforts among both groups.
A Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment
In this Heartland Policy Brief, constitutional law scholar Rob Natelson offers a new draft of legislation for states to use as a template when crafting applications calling for an Article V convention for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment. Natelson goes through the history and background of the Article V movement and offers legislators important criteria for drafting a balanced budget amendment.
Debts, Deficits, and the BBA
William H. Fruth, the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force co-founder, authored this guide highlighting the United States’ growing debt crisis. Fruth says an Article V convention to create a balanced budget amendment could finally significantly reduce the dangerous national deficit.
Article V: A Handbook for State Lawmakers
In his Article V: A Handbook for State Lawmakers, Independence Institute Senior Fellow Robert Natelson provides state legislators with the tools needed to enact the Article V convention process legally, effectively, and safely. Natelson explains the fundamentals of the procedure and what a convention would look like today. Natelson works through a step-by-step process, from application to ratification, and addresses “runaway convention” fears. Natelson also offers practical recommendations and amendments for state lawmakers in this important resource.
The Constitutional Amendment Process and a Reform Proposal
This Cato Institute Policy Analysis argues the constitutional amendment procedure of Article V is defective. Because no amendment can be enacted without congressional approval, limitations on the federal government that Congress opposes are virtually impossible to pass. This has prevented the enactment of several amendments that would have constrained the government: a balanced budget limitation, a line-item veto, and congressional term limits. The author argues Article V should be reformed to allow two-thirds of the state legislatures to propose a constitutional amendment that would then be ratified or rejected by the states, acting through state conventions or state ballot measures. The author says such a return of power to the states would limit the nation’s overly centralized federal government by helping to restore the federalist character of the U.S. Constitution.
Amending the Constitution by Convention: Practical Guidance for Citizens and Policymakers
This is the third study in a series of three Policy Studies by Independence Institute Senior Fellow Robert Natelson on the topic of amending the Constitution of the United States through an Article V convention. In this study, the author provides guidance to citizens and legislators on how to properly implement the process of calling an Article V convention. The text is meant be general in nature and not to be substituted for legal advice.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and is does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit the Center for Constitutional Reform website, The Heartland Institute’s website, or PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.
The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Lindsey Stroud, a state government relations manager at The Heartland Institute, at [email protected] or by phone at 757/354-8170.