The Leaflet: US Constitution May Soon Get an Update

Published July 21, 2017

The Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force is spearheading the Article V convention movement. So far, 27 states have passed balanced budget amendment (BBA) resolutions, including Arizona and Wyoming earlier this year. Only seven more states must pass matching resolutions to meet the 34-state threshold, requiring Congress to call for a convention to propose and draft a BBA.

In September, the Arizona Planning Convention will take place in the State Capitol complex in Phoenix, where delegates from across the country will plan the procedures, rules, and logistics of a prospective BBA Article V convention.

Earlier this week, The Heartland Institute released a new Policy Brief authored by former law professor and leading constitutional scholar Robert Natelson. In this Policy Brief, titled “A Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment,” Natelson argues adding a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the most appropriate course of action to rein in an indulgent and bloated federal government.

However, Natelson says drafting such an amendment is not as easy as it sounds. He writes:

One cannot merely copy balanced budget requirements from state constitutions because of the complexity of the federal financial system and because deficit financing is so ingrained in Washington, DC that conventional language likely would be evaded. Moreover, the amendment must be politically salable and consistent with the overall constitutional design. When measured against such criteria, existing drafts suffer from significant, and sometimes crippling, defects.

His Policy Brief opens with a brief discussion of the national government’s debt crisis. Noting “the same dysfunctions that impede Congress from balancing the federal budget also prevent it from proposing a BBA,” Natelson suggests an Article V convention of the states is the most promising vehicle for proposing a BBA.

Natelson says many challenges—political, practical, semantic—face those who would be tasked with authoring a constitutional amendment. He describes several criteria an amendment must meet to be successful and explains how his draft BBA meets those criteria. He concludes:

This draft balanced budget amendment is designed to renew and improve discussion, not to end it. This draft assists the process of developing an acceptable BBA by identifying criteria for drafting and suggesting ways to meet those criteria.

In a recent Research & Commentary, Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud and Policy Analyst Tim Benson examined a bill in Texas that considered adoption of the Compact for a Balanced Budget, an interstate agreement by at least three-fourths of the states that would trigger an Article V convention.

Natelson and other members of the Heartland team are available to testify on constitutional reform and other topics. Please contact Government Relations Coordinator Arianna Wilkerson at [email protected] to make the arrangements.

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