Last week, Oklahoma became the 29th state to call for a Convention of the States to propose a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget with the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 4. The bill was filed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State and will be presented to Congress.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, states can convene a Convention of the States to propose amendments to the Constitution when Congress, the Courts or both bodies refuse to address an egregious wrong suffered by the people. Under Article V, it takes two-thirds, or 34, of the states to apply for a convention and 38 states to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
SJR 4 makes two separate applications to Congress under Article V. One is for the purpose of calling a convention of the states to propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and the other is for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution to impose fiscal restraints, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and to limit terms of office for federal officials and members of Congress.
Our national debt has grown to nearly $19.3 trillion, which is putting our country and our children’s future at risk. Our Founding Fathers insisted that the states have a way to implement state-led changes (in contrast to Congress-led only changes) to correct failings of the federal government. Founding Father George Mason wanted a Constitutional rip cord, so to speak, to protect the states from an unresponsive or abusive federal government and so he insisted on Article V being added to the U.S. Constitution. Starting in June of 1787, Mason began persuading his colleagues about the importance of adding such a state-led concept within Article V. Mason stated boldly, “It would be improper to require the consent of the national legislature because they abuse their power and refuse their consent on that very account.” He was ultimately successful in ensuring Article V was adopted and then enthusiastically encouraged the states to ratify the newly formed Constitution by pointing to Article V as a reason it could be trusted.
Founding Father James Madison urged the use of Article V sparingly, in times of peril. And now is such a time.
Congress has proven that it’s not willing to stop its out of control spending. We must now use the states’ constitutional powers to make Congress live within its means.
In FY’15, our government collected $5 trillion in taxes but we have to borrow nearly $500 billion a year to pay on our debt. According to the U.S. Treasury, total U.S. debt has increased every year since 1957. There are only ten countries in the world (out of a total of 193) that have a higher total debt to G.D.P. ratio than the U.S (107%). Some of those countries include Greece (159%), Jamaica (147%), Italy (127%) and Portugal (123%). The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated recently that if nothing changes the federal government will be $27.2 trillion in debt by 2024 (an average increase of $1 trillion annually).
There are several organizations working nationwide to rally states in this effort. According to the non-profit, non-partisan Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, 29 states now have “active” applications to hold a convention to draft a balanced budget amendment. Only six more states are needed to bring about a limited convention under Article V.
Again, some are still concerned about a runaway convention. This isn’t possible as there are safeguards built into a constitutional convention. First, Congress is responsible for verifying whether two-thirds of the states actually called for the convention. Next, whatever is proposed as the purpose of the convention must be upheld. No other issues can be voted on during the convention except, in this particular case, the Balanced Budget Amendment. If delegates deviate from that issue their votes are null and void.
I’ve authored similar legislation in past sessions calling for a constitutional convention and I’m so pleased that my colleagues in the Oklahoma Legislature approved SJR4. As families, we must live within our means, and we should expect nothing less of our federal government. Those are our tax dollars and irresponsible spending today will negatively impact the lives of our children and grandchildren. We must protect them!
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 413, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at [email protected], or call (405) 521-5586.
Submitted by Sen. Josh Brecheen.