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Work on Fixing What Washington Broke Begins At Home

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

As the amount of direct liabilities owed by the federal government continues to soar and Congress remains unable or unwilling to rein in its irresponsible spending, the importance of state lawmakers also increases. Although federal elected officials have neglected their duty to taxpayers and voters, state elected officials have the responsibility—and the power—to take charge and lead the country toward effective, sensible policies.

Throughout the history of the nation, additions or amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by lawmakers in Washington, DC and then approved by state legislatures. The process for amending the Constitution, spelled out in Article V, provides two primary ways for updating the supreme law of the land.

The first method is the more well-known method for patching the Constitution’s code: a two-thirds majority of each congressional chamber votes to approve a joint resolution, and then 38 state legislatures vote to ratify the resolution.

The second method proceeds from the states to the national government. Thirty-eight state legislatures call for a constitutional convention, and Congress is required to organize the convention. It’s literally as simple as that, if one can say that about getting 38 state legislatures to agree on something.

In Federalist Paper 85, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “The words of this article are peremptory. The Congress ‘shall call a convention.’ Nothing in this particular is left to the discretion of that body. And of consequence, all the declamation about the disinclination to a change vanishes in air.”

Congressional leaders have flirted with balanced budget amendments since 1936, but little real effort has been put into pushing an amendment over the finish line through the normal method of amendment.

Although several competing balanced budget amendment proposals exist, one stands out from the pack because of its simplicity. The Compact for America (C4A) initiative is specifically designed to avoid many of the pitfalls along the road to constitutional and fiscal reform.

As written, C4A condenses all of the legislative actions needed to deliver a constitutional amendment proposal into a single resolution, requiring only one vote in each state legislature. The convention’s agenda, administration, delegation, execution, organization, and ratification processes are consolidated into a single delivery mechanism, minimizing almost any confusion or questions about the process itself.

State-led constitutional reform may be uncharted territory, but C4A has an answer for concerns about a “runaway convention” veering away from the primary issue about which delegates are meeting. The convention itself compels delegates to give an up-or-down vote on the amendment being proposed. If the convention’s rules are broken or member states try to expand the convention’s agenda, delegates are sent home and the convention is cancelled.

In fact, C4A’s process is so streamlined, the balanced budget amendment is already baked into the process—no muss, no fuss.

In many issue areas, such as highway funding, state lawmakers are picking up where Congress has failed the American people and are experimenting with innovative ways to serve the public.

Banding together through the Compact for America and calling for a national balanced budget amendment is just another way state legislatures can continue to fulfill their role as laboratories of democracy, discovering new and effective solutions to the problems of the day.

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