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States Expected to Push for Limits on Federal Debt

November 19, 2014

PHOENIX – With the Nov. 2 general elections now over, newly elected and returning legislators in all 50 states will go to work to turn their ideas into action in 2011.

Voter concerns about government spending contributed to large gains by the Republican Party even at state capitals. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates Republicans will hold the highest number of state legislative seats since 1928.

As a result, many states are expected to consider how to compel the federal government to balance its budget. By 2012, the national debt will be bigger than the entire American economy, according to the International Monetary Fund. The federal government’s inaction has inspired a movement for states to impose some discipline, starting with a convention to recommend amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

States can direct Congress to call an amendments convention under Article V of the Constitution. A new study from the Goldwater Institute reports the states frequently sought to call such a convention to address the serious concerns of their eras in the first 125 years after ratification.

“The historical record shows state legislators, members of Congress and presidents all shared a common understanding of an Article V convention and the important ground rules that govern the process,” said Nick Dranias, the Goldwater Institute’s constitutional scholar. “Recent worries that no one has any idea how to call a convention, or that the states can’t control what the delegates would discuss, are simply groundless.”

Learning from Experience: How the States Used Article V Applications in America’s First Century” is the second in a series of reports about amendments conventions by Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Robert G. Natelson. Mr. Natelson is a retired law professor from the University of Montana and is a historical scholar of the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Natelson’s previous study found the Constitution’s authors intended for the states to have a way to adopt amendments to rein in an out-of-control federal government. They provided a method in Article V that’s easily controlled by state legislatures and the convention delegates they would select.

In “Learning From Experience,” Mr. Natelson reports state legislatures acted repeatedly on that intent, using similar applications to Congress for conventions that usually asked for amendments to be drafted only on specific topics.

The report concludes that states today have plenty of guidance to call a convention that would propose constitutional amendments to limit the federal government’s ability to issue more debt.

Click here for a copy of “Learning from Experience: How the States Used Article V Applications in America’s First Century.” The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog that develops innovative, principled solutions to issues facing the states and whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.



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