Georgia Considers Call For Limited Constitutional Convention

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The Constitution is not an easy document to amend.  This is by design.  It is, after all, the very foundation of our system of government.  Foundations are mostly permanent, as they are what give the structural integrity to whatever is built upon them.  Changes should be well thought out, and only done when absolutely necessary.

There are factions within the conservative movement that believe a few changes are in order that would return us to a foundation that was what the constitutional framers intended rather than what we have now.  Some in the House have spent time arguing for a repeal of the 17th Amendment, which would allow for the legislature to appoint U.S. Senators.  The theory here is that the Senators would be more accountable to the interests of the states, while the House would remain that of the people.

Others want a repeal of the 16th amendment, believing the income tax is not something that is good for the country or our economy.  This is most often mentioned in the context of the FairTax – a national sales tax designed to replace all income, corporate, and estate taxes.

Neither of the above have the full support (or even understanding) of those in Republican circles, and lose interest of voters quickly as the political spectrum of those considering the measures crosses into independents or to the left.  In short, at this time they are academic exercises for those on the right, but far away from any critical mass that would be required to pass Congress and be ratified from the states.

Another movement remains afoot, lingering from time to time and even receiving a Congressional vote shortly after the 1994 election and its Contract With America.  After years of gridlock and missed deadlines to address the nation’s fiscal policy or even pass an actual budget into law, some believe Congress is no longer able to fix the nation’s fiscal woes.  Their strategy is to call for a Constitutional Convention to pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Article V of the Constitution specifies that 2/3 of the states may call for “a Convention for proposing amendments”.  A group called the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force is attempting to coordinate calls from the legislatures in 34 states for a Constitutional Convention to address the matter.  While some legal scholars believe that once called the purpose cannot be limited to the original intent, others believe that controls in the calls by the state legislature would nullify any rogue attempts to dramatically alter the document as we know it beyond the scope of the call.

More importantly, any change to the constitution would require the ratification of 38 states.  It is unlikely that any issue rooted in hyper-partisanship would secure the endorsement of 75% of states.  Even the balanced budget amendment is a long shot.

Yet an earlier effort in the late 1970’s saw 29 states request the very same limited convention – only 5 states short of those required for the convention.  That was a time when public confidence in Congress’ ability to find common ground to solve the nation’s problems was much higher.

Georgia’s Senate passed SR 371 and SB 206 to call for a limited convention as well as institute law behind the call.  The House has not yet taken up the measures by the full body, though it did receive a favorable committee report.

Republicans fear that Democrats are going to spend us into national bankruptcy.  Democrats fear that Republicans will not allow enough revenue to be raised to keep the country from borrowing its way into bankruptcy.   The American people are beginning to fear that Democrats and Republicans are more interested in keeping us afraid of the other than they are in setting and achieving minimal budget goals in a fiscally responsible manner.

Republicans have offered “cut, cap, and balance” as a solution.  A balanced budget amendment requires the last part, and would achieve an effective cap as well.

Democrats should join at this table in order to demonstrate that they are serious about solving the problem of debt and deficits.  If they do, they would probably find at least some Republicans more willing to allow for significant revenue increases so long as they know that spending will be capped and the budget will be balanced.

But before that is likely to happen, 34 states will be needed to get the ball rolling.  It remains to be seen if Georgia is ready to be one of them.

28 comments

  1. David C says:

    A balanced budget amendment (much less the Cut, Cap and Balance malarkey) remains a horrible idea.

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      I agree. I’m gonna stop balancing my household budget. It’s just too much hassle to try to live within my means and it’s certainly not as rewarding as screening your calls for collection agencies.

      • David C says:

        A Government is not a household budget. That’s a fallacy of the first order. And you don’t actually balance your household budget the way the BBA purists do anyway: You have debt outstanding, whether it’s a mortgage on your house or student loans for college or a car loan or a small business loan. You had to take out some debt, spend more than you took in to make long term investments or handle unforeseen circumstances. To prevent the country’s lender of last resort from doing that is nonsense.

        • seenbetrdayz says:

          You’re right. They aren’t the same. If I take out debt for myself, then it’s something I owe and I owe alone.

          Such is not the case with public debts. That’s shared—even by people who do not want nor support it.

          A balanced budget amendment is actually a rather timid approach to try to keep some of you foolhardy spenders from dragging the whole lot of us down with your habits.

          • Max Power says:

            There are plenty of times when it’s wise and desirable for a government to run a deficit. The problem is since Ronald Reagan we’ve basically lived with structural deficits even in good times. Which is a terrible idea.

            • My understanding is that there isn’t really anything wrong with a structural deficit that’s about 3% of GDP too large, because inflation and low bond rates can pretty easily eat that up over time. Something like 18% of GDP in taxes and 21% in spending or thereabouts is probably a good goal over the long term. In boom times when tax revenue is high, pay it down a little bit (like in the late 90’s) and in bust times let it grow a bit to keep government running.

              Yes you have “infinite” debt but $17 trillion (or pick a number) ain’t what it was just yesterday and won’t be what it is today by tomorrow either. Running a government like a business or a household are simpleton comparisons and dumb talking points. How many wars is your household or business fighting, for example? Obviously you want to take principles and practices that you’d apply to your business or household and apply them to running the government when applicable, but it isn’t always so.

              Even so, the above commenter is right about some debt – your mortgage or even take a look at major companies, they’ve been loading up on debt when the economy was soft and rates were low (just like the government). So in some cases, we have been running government like a business – just like the giant multinational corporation that government is truly comparable to, not the mom and pop store or retiree who owns his home free and clear. They’re using that debt to acquire other businesses or R&D in down times, the government uses the debt to feed people and pay insurance claims, but you get the idea.

              • seenbetrdayz says:

                They’re not ‘simpleton and dumb’ comparisons. I guess you haven’t been paying much attention to what’s going on in Europe? There are loads of problems which boil down to the fact that their governments have been growing well beyond their means. Greece, Spain, Italy? Of course, they’re lucky. We’re always ready to bail them out. It’s easy to ignore it. Americans have a long history of looking at other countries and thinking ‘oh, that will never happen to us.’ (Heck, it was just 30 years ago that the Soviets ruined themselves in Afghanistan just the way we’re doing, but everyone who still supports the nation-building there is in full-fledged denial).

                But there is no one to bail us out.

                • btfried says:

                  It’s a very dumb comparison that should be banished for all eternity. The reason politicians use it is because the federal budget is a huge and arcane document that is beyond most people’s understanding because they have little if any relevant information or experience regarding it. As a result, they use the household budget comparison because people know how household finance works. It makes people think they know something about how government finance works because of a strained simile, but it holds little if any water.

                  A balanced budget amendment would mean government would crowd out private investments during boom years and adopt massive austerity during recessions. People who draw the US-Europe comparison always seem to leave out the results we’ve seen over there where austerity hasn’t revived the economy and isn’t improving their budget outlook.

                  • seenbetrdayz says:

                    It hasn’t revived their economy because we’ve been bailing them out and they haven’t made the cuts they need to make in order to have any chance at recovery.

                    The U.S. has no such support. There is no great and powerful USA to bail out . . . um, the USA.

                    It’s like the old story where the immigrant comes to America to escape from political persecution, and his new friends tell him how terrible it was for him to have to go through that, and that we often take for granted how good we have it. He replies, “What do you mean? I was better off than you are. At least I had somewhere to run to.”

                  • seenbetrdayz says:

                    And it’s nothing short of arrogance to say that somehow fallible men and women of congress, who think that it’s a wise idea to spend $300,000 in grant money to study the size of duck penises, are somehow of greater understanding of budgets than we common folk.

                    Your argument doesn’t hold much water when we actually consider what they spend money on.

                    • btfried says:

                      The government isn’t running a deficit because of duck penises. The fact that you’re trotting out $300,000 as a large amount of money regarding a budget of $3,500,000,000,000+ proves my point about budgets being incomprehensible in household terms. Besides the amount, duck research, and research in general, is not even a service that a household would pay for, further making the federal budget=household budget argument even more inaccurate.

                    • seenbetrdayz says:

                      You know what, it’s worthless to discuss this with you guys. You can’t seem to understand that a few hundred thousand here and a few hundred thousand there adds up over time? Who is being simplistic here?

                      A little kid might think that they’ll never go broke as long as they spend a few dollars on a hundred bags of candy instead of a hundred dollars on a big bag of candy. But that’s basically what it feels like trying to discuss economics with liberal spenders. It’s like dealing with kids.

                    • Dave Bearse says:

                      You’ve earned respect for consistency, and the following likely doesn’t apply to you either. Unfortuantely most in the austerity crowd have not, and it does apply.

                      The $1T wasted expense of the Iraq war, on monetary grounds alone that don’t include 100,000 lives lost, is 3,000,000 times this paltry expense, yet the majority of the austerity crowd won’t even acknowledge it a mistake that they led.

        • Noway says:

          So, David, you’re ok with 17 tril in debt? Seriously? We will never pay all of it back. Period. The personal debt that we all have taken out that you spoke of is a manageable amount based on our income and the ability for us to repay it.
          And please don’t say that we have the ability to print money and all is well. Every new dollar that is printed with anything to back it up lessens the value of what we carry in our wallet. Fiscally, the US is screwed beyond repair.

          • Max Power says:

            Well we could simply print up a bunch of money and pay the debt off because it’s denominated in dollars. But that would devalue the currency and cause lots of other problems.

          • btfried says:

            Why do we need to pay back the debt? Commoditized American debt is the financial instrument the rest of the global economy is based upon. Treasuries are a low risk (and low yield) investment that allow investors around the world to mitigate risk by parking their money somewhere safe. Without American debt what would be the realistic alternative? Furthermore, the trade deficit means net we are sending dollars overseas. So what can foreign investors do with American dollars? They aren’t buying goods (hence their surplus), so they have to park their money somewhere else and would prefer to put it in safe place not exposed to as much risk as stocks or private bonds, so they choose treasuries.

            As long as the federal government doesn’t do anything stupid (like another debt ceiling fight) and continues make debt payments then the national debt isn’t really a problem. Paying off the national debt just doesn’t make sense, but the goal should instead be to grow the economy faster than debt when the economy is booming.

        • seenbetrdayz says:

          Yes, but low limit, rarely used, and always paid at the end of the month when due.

          No.

          No.

    • SteveMorris says:

      The Senate’s version is much worse than the House’s. In a practical sense it gives the Feds 18% ownership of the National GDP. This is not unprecedented in openly National Socialistic governments, however, it does not fall in line with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence nor the Preamble of the Constitution.

      It is a massive band-aid to cover up decades of the Gov’t looting the People. http://wp.me/pB8xR-e6

  2. stephy4030 says:

    From what I have been able to glean, seems what Chief Justice Burger said, is alarming enough to convince me a NO vote on S.R. 371 is the best way to go.
    Supreme Court Chief Justice Burger warned:
    “There is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention …. After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.”
    A Con Con cannot be limited, since there is nothing in the Constitution of the United States and no law to restrict its purpose, procedure, agenda, duration or election of delegates.

      • Lea Thrace says:

        “plus the thought that 3/4 of the states wouldn’t ratify something too far off kilter…..would they?”

        Tongue firmly in cheek right?

        • By my count 30 of 50 states have amended their own Constitutions (obviously different than the federal charter) to ban same sex marriage, and within a decade majority opinion in at least 15 of those states may go the other way – including new amendments invalidating amendments. Not 3/4, but not exactly good evidence for states not acting rashly.

    • David C says:

      It seems we have a relatively straightforward way to amend the constitution if we so desire. If the amendments these cranks want aren’t passing, perhaps it’s because they’re unworkable and unpopular, and should be ignored, rather than trying some other way to get them through the door.

  3. Michael Silver says:

    What is needed is Term Limits on Laws. There is no reason a law passed during the Spanish American War should apply to me today. Laws should come with an expiration date so they are looked at often and not allowed to smother Liberty of future generations.

  4. Napoleon says:

    Oh heck with it. Let’s just give California to China in exchange for canelling our debt. China gets a nice foothold in the US and the people of California will finally get the complete socialist worker’s paradise they always wanted. Win-win!

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