With the federal government’s arrival at its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling just around the corner, a recently filed N.C. Senate Bill serves as a timely petition and reproach to the federal government with one simple message: balance your budget.
N.C. Senate Bill 610 urges the Congress to adopt a Constitutional Amendment to require a balanced federal budget. According to the bill, if the budget is not balanced, the states would call a Constitutional Convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. As laid out in the U.S. Constitution, a Constitutional Convention including at least two thirds of the U.S. states has the power to amend the Constitution.
Sponsor, Sen. David Rouzer (R – Johnston), says that he mistrusts the efficacy of the federal government to keep their books balanced by itself. Constitutional restraint, according to Rouzer, is the only protective measure against a system of fiscal irresponsibility and individual states are the only ones able to bring this vital reform to fruition.
“Washington is incapable of balancing the budget for any extended period of time—if at all,” Rouzer said. “The only way it would happen on a continual basis is if the Constitution required it,” he added, “and the only way to get the Constitution amended is for the respective states to demand it.”
Rouzer’s concern about federal spending has great resonance with many Americans concerned about a rapidly growing government, ballooning debt, and rising deficits. A recent Heritage Foundation report showed that U.S. spending per household grew 162 percent since the 1960’s and estimates predict the national debt will soar past 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in coming decades due to runaway entitlement expenditures like Medicaid and Social Security.
Unlike the federal budget, every state in the union but Vermont has statutory or constitutional provisions that require a balanced budget.
North Carolina’s Second Constitutional Petition
This wouldn’t be the first time North Carolina has sent such a petition to the federal government. Eerily similar circumstances prompted a N.C. Joint Resolution in 1979 to make an identical appeal to Congress, citing concerns of inflation and “unchecked federal spending,” during the Carter administration. North Carolina joined in with 32 other states in the late 1970’s – early 1980’s (two states away from the 34 state requirement) to call a Constitutional Convention and pass a balanced budget amendment. Today, out of control finances at the federal level have caused North Carolina to revisit this issue and attempt once again to correct problems recognized over three decades ago.
The unprecedented issue of an Article V Constitutional Convention is causing a considerable amount of confusion and concern within certain conservative groups. In the past invoking Article V has been described as a potential ‘Pandora’s box’ for the U.S. Constitution. Matthew Spalding, Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation stated, “[The] absence of guidelines or rules makes an Article V Convention a risky venture, one that legislators have historically avoided.”
A fear grounded in the lack of formal guidelines in the Constitutional Convention process – the idea of a “runaway convention” – has soured some to the idea of invoking Article V. Critics are concerned that delegates of a convention could rewrite many of the sacrosanct values inscribed in the Constitution.
But for many, an Article V Convention is the last recourse to produce change in an out of control system. Nick Dranias of the conservative Goldwater Institute believes that Article V is the only option left to reign in the federal government’s spending spree. “No matter who controls Congress, the federal government has been incapable of putting its fiscal house in order. Article V gives the states the power to end the federal debt binge.”
North Carolina is not alone…
Many state legislatures are currently considering a federal budget balancing amendment, or constitutional convention, encouraged by federal patrons including Senator Rand Paul (R – Kentucky) and Congressman Mo Brooks (R – AL). Politico reports that as many as 30 states are currently considering legislation either calling for a Constitutional Convention or petitioning for a balanced budget amendment.
Convention Threat Moves Congress
While it may not come to the point of a Constitutional Convention, the threat of states calling a Constitutional Convention has historically been the impetus for congressional action. For example, concerns over a second Constitutional Convention were a primary factor in the congressional promulgation of the Bill of Rights during the early days of our country, and could have played a role in countless other amendments. So while Rouzer may doubt the efficacy of Congress for the time being, a growing number of cynical state legislators may put the necessary leverage on Washington to produce critical budgetary restraint controls.