Charlie Harper: Constitutional convention time?

March 29, 2013 

There are factions within the conservative movement that believe a few changes are in order that would return us to a foundation that was what the constitutional framers intended rather than what we have now. Some in the House have spent time arguing for a repeal of the 17th Amendment, which would allow for the legislature to appoint U.S. senators. The theory here is that the senators would be more accountable to the interests of the states, while the House would remain that of the people.

Others want a repeal of the 16th Amendment, believing the income tax is not something that is good for the country or our economy. This is most often mentioned in the context of the Fair Tax -- a national sales tax designed to replace all income, corporate, and estate taxes.

Neither of the above has the full support (or even understanding) of those in Republican circles, and they lose the interest of voters quickly as the political spectrum of those considering the measures crosses into independents or to the left. In short, at this time they are academic exercises for those on the right, but far away from any critical mass that would be required to pass Congress and be ratified from the states.

Another movement remains afoot, lingering from time to time and even receiving a congressional vote shortly after the 1994 election and its Contract With America. After years of gridlock and missed deadlines to address the nation's fiscal policy or even pass an actual budget into law, some believe Congress is no longer able to fix the nation's fiscal woes. Their strategy is to call for a Constitutional Convention to pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Article V of the Constitution specifies that two-thirds of the states may call for "a Convention for proposing amendments." A group called the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force is attempting to coordinate calls from the legislatures in 34 states for a Constitutional Convention to address the matter. While some legal scholars believe that once called the purpose cannot be limited to the original intent, others believe that controls in the calls by the state legislature would nullify any rogue attempts to dramatically alter the document as we know it beyond the scope of the call.

More importantly, any change to the Constitution would require the ratification of 38 states. It is unlikely that any issue rooted in hyper-partisanship would secure the endorsement of 75 percent of states. Even the balanced budget amendment is a long shot.

Yet an earlier effort in the late 1970s saw 29 states request the very same limited convention -- only five states short of those required for the convention. That was a time when public confidence in Congress' ability to find common ground to solve the nation's problems was much higher.

Georgia's Senate passed SR 371 and SB 206 to call for a limited convention as well as institute law behind the call. The House has not yet taken up the measures by the full body, though it did receive a favorable committee report.

Republicans fear that Democrats are going to spend us into national bankruptcy. Democrats fear that Republicans will not allow enough revenue to be raised to keep the country from borrowing its way into bankruptcy.

The American people are beginning to fear that Democrats and Republicans are more interested in keeping us afraid of the other than they are in setting and achieving minimal budget goals in a fiscally responsible manner.

Republicans have offered "cut, cap, and balance" as a solution. A balanced budget amendment requires the last part, and would achieve an effective cap as well.

Democrats should join at this table in order to demonstrate that they are serious about solving the problem of debt and deficits. If they do, they would probably find at least some Republicans more willing to allow for significant revenue increases so long as they know that spending will be capped and the budget will be balanced.

But before that is likely to happen, 34 states will be needed to get the ball rolling. It remains to be seen if Georgia is ready to be one of them.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government;

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