Promises of reduced spending swept dozens of self-proclaimed conservatives into power during the 2010 congressional elections. What did they do? They gave President Obama the power to lift the federal debt limit, twice failed to move a Balanced Budget Amendment proposal out of the House and promised spending cuts that look increasingly illusory.
As history increasingly shows, Washington’s limitless ability to incur debt is one of the greatest errors in our Constitution. Fortunately, there is no reason to wait for Congress to propose what Thomas Jefferson called the “Missing Amendment.”
Federalist No. 43, written by James Madison, emphasizes that Article V of the U.S. Constitution empowers “State governments to originate the amendment of errors.” This means state legislatures can compel Congress to call a convention for proposing constitutional amendments when 34 of them pass “applications” requesting one.
Not surprisingly, states and citizens are increasingly recognizing that Article V was designed to tackle the problem of the federal debt.
Last session, two states — Louisiana and North Dakota — passed National Debt Relief Amendment (NDRA) applications. They request an Article V convention to require any increase in the federal debt to be approved by a majority of state legislatures. Legislators in 20 states, including Arizona State Senator Linda Gray, will sponsor the NDRA this year.
Moving the federal debt debate to state legislatures would enable states and ordinary citizens to exert far more influence than they currently have. And the logistics of complying with this amendment would require the federal government to prepare budgets, debt financing proposals, and fiscal contingency plans months in advance.
The National Debt Relief Amendment would decentralize power, establish transparency and encourage basic fiscal responsibility. But no one should hold their breath waiting for Congress to propose it. The only realistic option is to impose it from the outside, and Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives us this power.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Article V research resources
New York Times: Obama Waits Before Asking for Increase in Debt Limit
RestoringFreedom.org: The National Debt Relief Amendment