Home >> Money & The Economy >> Article V Convention – Congress Will Not Act, So We Will

Article V Convention – Congress Will Not Act, So We Will

Government debt continues to amass at a dizzying pace. The federal government has displayed no discipline in reining it in and reestablishing a more sound fiscal footing for the future of the country. Our founding fathers, however, had the prescience to include in our Constitution the means whereby the states, and the people, could force the government to do what they have no appetite to do, to require a balanced budget.

Growth-Of-United-States-Government-DebtJust since 2006, federal government debt has shot from $6.7 trillion, to nearly $18 trillion. The largest segment of that spending occurred over the past six years with five years of deficits exceeding $1 trillion. Our government has been spending 60% more than it’s been collecting in tax receipts.

Those figures do not even begin to address our long-term debt due to non-discretionary entitlement programs. According to the General Accounting Office’s (GAO) 2013 annual report, unfunded debt including Social Security and Medicare is over $76 trillion, an increase of 8% over 2012 levels. Our national debt increases by an estimated $8.2 million per minute, and about $350 billion per month.

The GAO was explicit in its warning to the policy makers about our spending. They said in the very first paragraph, “GAO’s simulations continue to show escalating levels of debt that illustrate that the long-term fiscal outlook remains unsustainable.”

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Budget-chartFormer Comptroller General of the United States, David M. Walker, has been sounding the clarion call of economic disaster for the nation if spending is not reined in, and politicians refuse to deal with fiscal realities of unabated spending. He describes America as a “sinking ship” in a sea of our own debt. He points out that, “The US ranks near the bottom of developed global economies in terms of financial stability and will stay there unless it addresses its burgeoning debt problems,” based on the Sovereign Fiscal Responsibility Index.

Something must be done before the dollar and our entire economic system collapses entirely due to our calamitous accumulation of debt. And the solution could be nestled in Article V of the Constitution. That Article declares how the document can be amended.

Debt-Ceiling-Cartoon“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.”

That second option, referred to as an Article V Convention, or Convention of the States, has never been utilized. It’s been attempted before, but never to fruition. It was added to the document after four earlier attempts at language that would have opened the door to a full constitutional convention. The precise and narrow limitations of an Article V convention only allows for adoption of amendments, not a complete “con con” which could facilitate mischief in rewriting our founding document. In Federalist Paper 43 James Madison explained, “It guards equally against that extreme facility, which would render the Constitution too mutable.”

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cg536b7ae12610aThis is validated by Nick Dranias, Director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Constitutional Government, who has said, “Despite claims made to the contrary, the truth is that Article V does not provide authority for a foundational constitutional convention. The Founders specifically and repeatedly rejected efforts to substitute the current Article V language to allow for a foundational constitutional convention to be called.”

Currently there are active efforts to call an Article V Convention for at least two major issues: a Balanced Budget Amendment, and a National Debt Relief Amendment. Both are oriented toward forcing the federal government to get its fiscal house in order. The latter would disallow congress from increasing the federal debt without a majority of states approving an increase in the debt limit.

In order for such a convention to be convened, two-thirds of the states must pass resolutions calling for it, and then upon adoption of the specific amendments at the convention, three-fourths of the states must ratify. Therein lies the assurance that only viable and constitutionally sound amendments would emerge from such a convention.

Every citizen, and every state in the union has a stake in the solvency and fiscal stability of the nation, and should be actively embracing and supporting the Article V Convention process for these key issues. Hopefully an amendment will then be advanced for establishing term limits on congress, as well. Since Washington will not lead on these critical issues, it’s time for the people, and the states, to do so.

Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at [email protected].

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About Richard Larsen

AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at [email protected]

10 comments

  1. Who said “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’?? They were wrong….and so was I with ‘how’ I understood this posting. I, in my sometimes foggy wisdom, had blended the two into a single ‘convention’. So I pulled out my copy, again. I am still not totally clear, but do see where some of the differences lie.

    Thank goodness, I’n not alone in my confusion….A number of years ago I became aware that my formal education had left voids in this area and I’ve tried to ‘catch up” by reading and seminars…so guess I’m just on my way and just not there yet. What a blessing that our Founders weren’t as slow as I apparently am!

  2. While grateful that our Founders were wise enough to ‘protect’ us and at the same time recognize that ‘time’ may require some changes, I hold some reservations.

    When a door is cracked open, all sorts of undesirables slither through and nest undetected. AND, let’s not forget how these incompetents got their power! It was “We The People” that not only elected them, but some over and over again. This is also at the State level. So how is allowing them the opportunity to repeat the same mistakes to our advantage??

    Until ‘their’ re-elections take a back seat to their sworn duty and they can distinguish the difference between ‘Service” and Self-serving I am wary of taking this action…..Then, there is the Voter that doesn’t bother to do any more than ‘show up’ to the polls on voting days to check off boxes at random and leaves thinking they’ve done their part.

    It’s proven that employers tend to hire those of the same or similar mindset. This theory is reflected in those we vote for….perhaps that’s the first place change should begin before we start this probable lesson in futility….

    Really, really check out candidates for yourself, don’t allow others to do your thinking. (unless you’re willing to follow ‘the bell’ off a cliff) Don’t limit yourself to just your own state. Make your choice and support them!! Money is NOT the only support they can use…..Most of all……VOTE FOR AMERICA on Nov 4th

    Really enjoyed this post and the comments from others. This is the kind of discussion we need more of.

    • Jan, I know whereof you speak. I held those same reservations until recently. The Article V Convention can only be called for a specific amendment, with precisely the same parameters, and the same language in state legislation calling for it. It is not to be confused with a “con con” or constitutional convention. There can only be one issue handled at a time based on the passage of legislation by the various states. There would be no room for mischief. If an attempt to hijack it ensues, the results would not be binding, unless ratified by 38 states.

      I’ve had my concerns alleviated in that regard. The Founders obviously understood that at some point we would be in such a predicament, where the federal legislature would not act, or do so in the best interests of the nation. That is precisely why they gave us this one additional tool that reinforces State’s Rights as well as our rights as freedom-loving citizens.

      • Richard, you are completely wrong when you say that an Article V convention can only address a specific amendment and that only one issue may be handled at a time. Where in the wording of Article V do you see that restriction? Article V wording states “amendments”, plural. Nowhere does it limit the number of amendments that may be addressed at a convention. But, you are correct in that ONLY amendments can be addressed and not the drafting of an entirely new constitution.

  3. Larsen is completely correct in his analysis. He should review the “Article V 2.0” effort known as Compact for America, which advances the Compact for a Balanced Budget, the core of which is the National Debt Relief Amendment’s policy of requiring a referendum of the states to approve any increase in the federal debt limit.

    Relative to Liesner’s claims that there’s “nothing wrong with the Constitution we have,” I disagree. The “Constitution we have” has no limit on the federal government’s borrowing capacity. Thomas Jefferson recognized this as a defect in 1798. The “Constitution we have” has unlimited taxing authority under the 16th Amendment. The “Constitution we have” has removed the states from the U.S. Senate through the 17th Amendment, eliminating a crucial check on the centralization of power in Washington. All of these defects can only be fixed by amendments. And Congress won’t lead on that effort, only the states will.

    • Nick, you’re exactly right. Even the founders acknowledged that our Constitution would require amending, and gave us these two means of doing so. The Article V convention is not what we should fear since the process is so tightly defined and limited to the amendment process. What we should fear is a profligate federal government that thinks it can in perpetuity, raise the debt limit, mortgage the nation, and decimate our enviable position with the global reserve currency. All of that is threatened by the profligacy of our federal “leaders.”

  4. I totally disagree with the idea of a Constitutional Convention. First off, here’s nothing wrong with the Constitution that we already have, it just needs to be followed. Secondly, what makes you believe that the politicians will follow a new Constitution to the letter of the law. The real problem is the corruption in our government that “We the People” have allowed grow through apathy and just plain laziness. A Constitutional Convention is just a way to blame something else for our remiss of duties. We have created career politicians that are drunk on power and only serve their self serving needs. There is an election in November, what’s the odds that these same politicians that violate the Constitution everyday will be re-elected. That is the root of the problem not the Constitution.

    • Our Founders designed Article V of our Constitution to address the problems that result from the concentration of power that you have mentioned. If there is nothing wrong with our Constitution, what is wrong with Article V?

      • Glenn, your comment is astute. If the Founders had not intended us to have the ability to amend the Constitution under the direction of the States, why would they have given us that tool? I’m convinced they knew we would someday be in this position where the federal government would not be responsive to the will of the people, and knew we’d have to limit their power-grab by taking matters into our own hands. They were prescient, and the tool they afforded us is a powerful one that we refuse to employ at our peril.

    • L.E. I appreciate your comment and insights. But you’re conflating a Constitutional Convention with an Article V Convention. As I mentioned in the piece, “That second option, referred to as an Article V Convention, or Convention of the States, has never been utilized. It’s been attempted before, but never to fruition. It was added to the document after four earlier attempts at language that would have opened the door to a full constitutional convention. The precise and narrow limitations of an Article V convention only allows for adoption of amendments, not a complete “con con” which could facilitate mischief in rewriting our founding document. In Federalist Paper 43 James Madison explained, “It guards equally against that extreme facility, which would render the Constitution too mutable.”

      The Article V Convention can only propose Amendments to our existing foundational document. And the Amendments proposed are strictly limited based on the wording of the resolutions of the applying states. Right now there are the two issues in the works, both having to do with our profligate federal spending. There is no downside to this process, but much that can be gained.

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