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Compact for America Strikes the Right Balance on War Financing

November 14, 2014

Representative Adam Kwasman is leading the charge in the Arizona House to pass the Compact for America (“HB2328”). HB2328 proposes an agreement among the states that would advance a powerful balanced budget amendment for the federal government. At its core, HB2328 requires state legislative approval for any increase in the federal debt. Some have expressed opposition to this concept because they are concerned about the lack of an explicit exemption to finance wars. The Compact for America furnishes plenty of flexibility to finance truly necessary wars—without allowing Washington to write itself a blank check.

Should this balanced budget amendment become part of the U.S. Constitution, all it would take is Congress to persuade 26 state legislatures to lift an initial debt limit. This role for the states is nothing new. It is essentially the same role state legislatures had before the 17th Amendment removed them from the role of appointing U.S. Senators. When state legislatures controlled the U.S. Senate by proxy that meant declarations of war, war spending, and the financing of wars—as well as all other federal policies—essentially required the concurrence of a majority of state legislatures.

By requiring state approval for an increase in the federal debt, the Compact for America returns to the states a modest portion of the same authority they had to influence federal policies under the Constitution’s original design. Based on the fact that numerous wars were authorized and financed when state legislatures controlled the U.S. Senate by proxy, there should be no concern about this restoration of power to state legislatures overly restricting the financing of wars. And with modern technology, the physical distance between state legislatures and the halls of Congress no longer justifies sending proxies to Washington, D.C.

Of course, the fundamental problem with writing a “war exception” into any balanced budget amendment is that the temptation to interpret the exception to allow for needless borrowing is just too great for Washington. It is like telling an alcoholic to avoid liquor–except for medicinal purposes. While not perfect, state legislatures are closer to the American people and less likely to be driven by a narrow agenda to abuse the power to incur debt—or to instigate unjustifiable wars. For this reason, HB2328 rightly puts state legislatures in the position of determining the legitimacy of any request to lift the federal debt limit.

Learn more:

Compact for America: Get Educated

Arizona State Legislature: HB2328

Maricopa Monitor: Kwasman’s bill part of nat’l try for constitutional amendment



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