Regardless of where you stand politically I think we can all agree that things in Washington are pretty weird. The premise of Democracy is that anyone can be elected, and we proved this in spades last November.
And now comes another curve ball. I know I am the only one in the room who doesn’t know that much about the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights but still, who knew there are a total of 7 articles to the Constitution and 27 amendments. The last amendment, the 27th dealing with compensation for Congress, was originally proposed back in 1789 (yes, that’s right, 1789) and finally ratified in 1992. The New York Times Magazine published a wonderful Annotated Constitution in its July 2, 2017 issue. Ross Douthat, an op-ed columnist in The Times, conjectured that there might never be another amendment to the Constitution. The process is so involved and politics so thorny that we may never again be able to reach consensus on an Amendment.
Well gentlemen, hold your horses. A group called the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force (BBATF) has been quietly lining up state legislatures to call for a Constitutional Convention under Article V of the Constitution to pass an amendment which would require a balanced Federal budget. All 27 amendments so far have taken a similar route – they started in Congress and then were sent to the states for ratification. Article V allows two thirds of the states to call on Congress to call a Constitutional Convention to vote on Amendments. This is what is happening now.
As the chart above shows, 27 states have passed resolutions calling for a Convention on a Balanced Budget Amendment. Only 7 more states are needed and with Republicans controlling both Houses of many of the remaining legislatures we may get a Constitutional Convention by 2019.
If a Constitutional Convention is called, all bets are off as to what might happen. The BBATF has said the only thing that will be voted on is the Balanced Budget Amendment. But critics worry about a “runaway” convention that might deal with all sorts of things – – term limits for Congress, reining in Federal powers, deciding when life actually begins, you name it.
The adults in the room all say if a Convention is called they know who will lead it, how the delegates will be chosen, how the voting will be done, etc. but …the reality is there are no precedents here, it’s open season on Constitution writing.
Polls have shown that about 65% to 75% of the public approve of the idea of an amendment balancing the Federal budget but how it is framed and how it is worded is the important thing. What happens in times of war, or major recession, or other extenuating circumstances? If a Constitutional Convention passes an Amendment it still must be sent back to the states for ratification but in any case, get ready for some real excitement.