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.
Just 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.”
Former 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.
“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.”
This 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].