Article V Invocation -- Is There a Better Way to do it?

Barney Brenner
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Posted: Aug 21, 2013 12:01 AM
Article V Invocation -- Is There a Better Way to do it?

It’s long been evident that Congress has no intention of curbing its profligate spending. Despite racing 90 mph in the wrong direction, instead of reversing course, their meager budget reductions are the equivalent of simply slowing to 70.

The inevitable result of this reckless behavior –- whether triggered by a US government credit failure, a vast inflation of the currency or a repudiation of the debt -– will be economic chaos.

There’s a growing call coming from outside the halls of Congress for addressing this dilemma. Last week, Ohio’s Governor John Kasich called for an Article V Convention for proposing a balanced budget amendment.

In the first chapter of his new book The Liberty Amendments, Mark Levin makes the case for the safety, propriety and necessity of this method. He notes his transition from being a skeptic of an Article V Convention to becoming “a confident and enthusiastic advocate.”

Concerns have been voiced by many individuals and organizations, both by those who revere our founding charter, as well as those who wish to maintain the status quo, about a “runaway convention,” where our constitutional protections may be abrogated, the document may be discarded entirely or our very form of government might be changed.

Levin ably makes the case for these fears being unfounded.

But what if there was a legitimate and well-designed approach to Article V which not only provided supplemental safeguards, but simultaneously expedited the amendment process and secured the outcome ahead of time?

It takes 34 states to initiate a convention but 38 to ratify proposed amendments. Why not have an agreement, or compact, among the states where a full complement of 38 proposes the convention, approving in advance all the guidelines, language, restrictions and obligations, thus pre-ratifying everything necessary to enact an amendment?

That, essentially, is what the Goldwater Institute, a public policy organization in Phoenix, is advocating.

With the initial focus on a federal balanced budget amendment, Nick Dranias, Goldwater’s Director of Policy Development and Constitutional Government, has designed a virtually turnkey approach to the amendment process.

State invocation of Article V of the US Constitution is a never-implemented and little understood power of the states to restore a balance of sovereignty. But it was carefully worded by our founders and reads in part, “The Congress, … on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments.”

A crucial item which the language of Article V makes clear is that this provision, adopted at the original Constitutional Convention, shall be a convention only for proposing amendments. Adoption still requires the approval of 38 states.

Adding to this substantial safeguard, Dranias envisions a structure where the amendment language is known in advance, there’s a binding agreement among the states wherein they are reciprocally obligated, the delegates' actions are carefully restricted and there are no gaps left to be filled by Congress, whose actions are constitutionally defined. After 38 states are on board, the convention call goes into effect. The up or down vote itself is slated as a one-day affair.

The prescience of the framers is evident in their provision for a convention of states to amend our Constitution for the purpose of reining in what they envisioned as an irresponsible or rogue federal government. Our founders counted on the states “to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.” But we have failed to do so.

In an Oval Office speech more than 25 years ago, Ronald Reagan fairly implored the states to convene an amendments convention. He said, “We desperately need the power of a constitutional amendment to help us balance the budget.”

At that time, our national debt was under $2.3 trillion. Today we’re $17 trillion in the hole –- and counting –- and the bill WILL come due with no practical way to pay it unless the states force the issue.

There are other important possibilities for amendments –- Levin proposes an additional ten -– and the time may soon come when they can be addressed. But for many, the most pressing issue at this time is to get our fiscal house in order. Most citizens want the federal government to spend within its means –- just as they must. And the successful enactment of one amendment would likely expedite additional action.

No one has a crystal ball, but the trends and warning signs seem clear. The unknowns are just when financial chaos will hit us -– just as is happening to indebted countries in Europe -– and in what form it will come. It’s time to take action, and the folks who are needlessly worried about a runaway convention are overlooking a more imminent existential threat.

We already have a runaway federal government.