By Kevin Mooney — Do not sit back and wait for the federal government to reform itself.
Instead, allow the states to take the lead in getting the federal debt under control; this is the central message of the National Debt Relief Amendment, which reads as follows: “An increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate states.”
Put simply, the amendment requires Congress to seek approval from the state legislative bodies, those that are closest to the people, before it can once again hike the national debt.
Sen. Curtis Olafson, a North Dakota Republican and Nick Dranias, director of constitutional studies at the Goldwater Institute, make a strong case for the amendment in a recent report.
“Unlike other fiscal reforms that would rely on the courts to enforce them, the National Debt Relief Amendment is uniquely powerful in that it would enforce itself,” they argue. “This is because the financial markets will reject or significantly discount the value of any new federal bonds issued without support from a majority of state legislatures. This would give the federal government a strong financial incentive to seek out prior legislative approval of any new debt without anyone having to resort to a lawsuit.”
With the national debt now approaching $15 trillion, recent polls show that Americans with differing ideologies and party affiliations are united on the need to curtail spending in Washington D.C. and alleviate the flow of red ink. A new Reuters poll, for example, shows 71 percent of Americans oppose increasing the national debt.
Under Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution, states do have the authority to direct Congress to call a convention for proposing amendments. The move would not be unprecedented. So far, there have been at least 12. Critics charge that the process could become too open-ended and open the Constitution up to damaging changes. Robert Natelson, a retired law professor, has addressed these objections in a series of reports for the Goldwater Institute. He argues that the status quo in Washington D.C. is far more dangerous to American interests than the convention process.
“The Founders included the state application-and-convention process because they recognized that Congress might become irresponsible or corrupt and refuse to propose needed changes — particularly if those changes might restrain the power of Congress,” Natelson wrote. “In the state application-and-convention process, the states play much the same role in curbing abuses at the federal level as citizens do when curbing abuses through citizen initiatives at the state level. Increasingly, Americans are recognizing the current situation in our country is precisely the kind for which the convention method was designed.”
Louisiana and North Dakota have already passed resolutions that call for an Article 5 Convention. Eight other states are now considering similar resolutions. While it is very possible for the process to be opened up to ill-conceived amendments, it is worth noting that it takes 38 states to ratify a proposed change.
That’s a steep hurdle. As the national debt spirals out of control, there is a strong case to be made that more states should consider this option.
Kevin Mooney is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government.