Congress just gave us 1.7 trillion more reasons why a Convention of States could be our last, best hope to stop the out-of-control, debt-financed federal spending machine.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin brokered a two-year budget deal with congressional leaders on behalf of President Donald Trump that removes the spending constraints required by the Budget Control Act (BCA).
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 also suspends the debt ceiling, which limits the amount the federal government can borrow, for two years. The federal government already spends more than it takes in each year. In case you were wondering, the national debt is now more than $22 trillion.
Suspending the debt ceiling allows Congress to spend more wantonly than a drunken sailor. Sure enough, the budget proposal raises current spending caps by $320 billion over the next two years, with the spending hikes split equally between domestic programs and the military. Because that spending will require increased borrowing, it could add $1.7 trillion to the national debt over 10 years, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Unfortunately, since 2013, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Congress and the president have reached agreements that have avoided (very necessary) spending cuts. Even worse, this deal eliminates sequestration, effectively repealing the BCA. The additional $320 billion of spending authorized by the Bipartisan Budget Act is greater than the budget-busting two-year increases Republicans agreed to for 2018 and 2019 ($296 billion) and for 2016 and 2017 ($80 billion).
Congress decided to suspend the debt ceiling until July 31, 2021, “with zero reforms or spending cuts,” writes Daniel Horowitz of Conservative Review. Appropriations bills to fund the federal government still must be passed before October. However, it is unlikely Congress will show any spending restraint.
The BCA of 2011 was the single greatest achievement of the Tea Party Movement. It established funding caps for discretionary spending and mandatory cuts (sequestration) in spending if the limits weren’t met. It was set to expire after 10 years. Sadly, Congress couldn’t even make it that far. The Budget Control Act is now a dead letter.
The fiscal irresponsibility that has led to this sorry state of affairs is what prompted the modern Convention of States movement. Since the 1950s, profligate spending by Congress has spawned demands for a balanced budget amendment. There was a flurry of state applications for such an amendment in the 1970s that petered out in the early 1980s. Since 2010, there has been a renewed interest in imposing restraints on what is perceived as an out-of-control Congress.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two methods for initiating amendments to the nation’s charter. One is by action of Congress, the other upon application of two-thirds (34 states) of the state legislatures. In The Liberty Amendments, author and radio talk show host Mark Levin wrote the only way to restore the American republic is through the convention of states process because our government no longer operates as the Framers intended. Levin believes the Founders understood the government they created could be subverted. He argues that we have arrived at that state of affairs.
“The Framers anticipated this day might arrive, for they knew that republics deteriorate at first from within,” Levin writes. “They provided a lawful and civil way to repair what has transpired. We the people, through our state legislatures—and the state legislatures, acting collectively—have enormous power to constrain the federal government, reestablish self-government, and secure individual sovereignty.”
In 2013, the group Citizens for Self-Governance created the Convention of States Project, which lobbies state legislatures to pass a model application to Congress that calls for “a convention for proposing amendments,” as Article V states. The application states the convention, which would be made up of delegates appointed by all the states, would focus on imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, reducing its authority over states, and imposing term limits on federal officials. Any amendments proposed by the convention would require ratification by 38 states to become effective.
So far, 1.3 million Americans have signed the online Convention of States petition and thousands have actively lobbied their state legislatures to pass the model application. Fifteen states have done so and active efforts are ongoing in many more.
The federal government must rein in spending or we will never get a handle on reducing our massive federal debt, leaving a crushing fiscal burden on generations to come. Currently, our only hope is a convention of the states to constrain our out-of-control federal government.