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POLITICAL ECONOMY
Outside View: The 28th Amendment?
by Barry W. Poulson
Boulder, Colo. (UPI) Jul 27, 2012


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

The U.S. government's accumulating debt is unsustainable. This we know. Correcting our current course to restore balance and economic growth will require fundamental fiscal reform -- another uncontested point. But a fact that's often missing debate over sustainable fiscal reform at the national level is evidence that it's even possible under the current framework.

True, America has enjoyed temporary periods in which the federal government balanced the budget and ran a surplus, such as the late 1990s and back during the Eisenhower administration. However, a long-term solution to the fiscal crises remains elusive.

Since 2000, the national debt has more than doubled and is on pace to double again by the end of the decade. To put that debt in perspective, consider that the nation currently owes more than our economy makes in a year. By the year 2037, it will owe twice as much as we make.

And how does today's increasingly uncontrolled, government spending compare to the past? The last four budget deficits -- each surpassing $1 trillion -- have consumed a larger portion of the economy than at any time since World War II.

With decades of precedent demonstrating Congress' inability to act, resolution of our fiscal crisis requires a change not yet tried: a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And the document itself, under Article V, puts forward two possible paths to this end.

First, Congress, with a two-thirds vote, can propose a balanced budget amendment to be ratified by the states. Over the past half century, lawmakers have introduced 123 resolutions calling for a balanced budget amendment. But Congress has failed to reach the requisite two-thirds vote required to submit the amendment for ratification.

Alternatively, if two-thirds of the states pass resolutions calling for an Article V convention to enact a balanced budget amendment, Congress is required to call such a convention. So far, 18 states have enacted such resolutions. Opponents of this route lobby against passage of these resolutions due to fear of a "runaway" convention -- concern that delegates at such a meeting would use the opportunity to not just amend but largely rewrite the U.S. Constitution.

New Hampshire recently became the 18th state to pass a resolution calling for an Article V convention to enact a balanced budget amendment. The Granite State balanced budget resolution is path breaking because it included a companion 'no runaway convention' resolution, charging its delegates to vote only on a balanced budget amendment. Voting on any other proposed amendment would subject them to recall and criminal penalties.

Even though the "no runaway convention" resolution was vetoed, the fact that it received bipartisan support in the legislature indicates the popularity of the option. More importantly, New Hampshire has set a precedent for other states to pass similar resolutions designed to convene an Article V convention for the sole purpose of enacting a balanced budget amendment.

The nation's fiscal crisis is precisely what James Madison and the founding fathers had in mind when they incorporated Article V in the Constitution. If Congress fails to enact an amendment critical to the nation, the states have the power to propose such an amendment. When the states have taken such action in the past -- as they did in proposing the direct election of U.S. senators -- Congress has responded by proposing their own amendment, thus precluding an Article V convention.

As more states pass resolutions calling for an Article V convention to enact a balanced budget amendment, there's a chance federal lawmakers may be pressured to act. However, the possibility of garnering 67 votes in the Senate on such a major issue is still too low to keep states from pushing forward on their own.

We are at a turning point where balancing the budget can restore economic freedom and growth but failure to do so will guarantee stagnation -- leaving our children and grandchildren with burdensome taxes and a limited prosperity.

(Barry W. Poulson is a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado Boulder; past commissioner to Colorado Tax Commission; member of Taskforce to Reform PERA (2005).)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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