Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend in 1798 that one thing missing from the newly minted Constitution was some kind of limit on federal debt:
"I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government to the genuine principles of its Constitution; I mean an additional article, taking from the federal government the power of borrowing."
Fortunately, President Jefferson’s wish can be a reality. Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives the states the power to provide powerful relief from the federal debt.
The National Debt Relief Amendment would require any increase in the federal debt be approved by a majority of state legislatures. Giving state legislatures the power to approve any increase in federal debt would force Congress to do what private individuals and small businesses must do everyday—assess the amount of money available for spending and prioritize that spending.
Moreover, requiring state approval would be even more powerful than a Balanced Budget Amendment because there would be no need to go to court to enforce the National Debt Relief Amendment. Financial markets would refuse to pay the face value of federal bonds that were issued without state approval because of the increased risk of default.
In the final analysis, our runaway federal government is spending its way right off a financial cliff. It is time for the states to apply the brakes.
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: Amending the Constitution by Convention: A Complete View of the Founders' Plan
Grand Forks Herald: The National Debt Relief Amendment