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Support Article V to Bring Federal Finances Back Under Control!
An Open Letter to the Indiana General Assembly
February 15, 2011
By Pete Sepp
On behalf of the National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU’s) 362,000 members nationwide and our 7,700-plus members in the state of Indiana, I urge you to exercise your prerogative under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to advance a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) for the federal government. This proposal is part of the Freedom Amendments Resolution you are considering.
As you may know, since its founding in 1969 NTU’s most fundamental and enduring goal has been to establish constitutional limits on the size and future growth of government. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, my organization helped to launch and sustain the movement for a limited Article V convention among the states to propose a Balanced Budget Amendment for ratification, having secured 32 of the 34 resolutions necessary to initiate this process. During that time we also led the drive for a BBA in Congress, which passed the House of Representatives in 1995 and came within one vote in the United States Senate of adoption for subsequent ratification by the state legislatures. Unfortunately, the scare tactics of extremists thwarted attempts at enactment through both routes.
More than 15 years after this near-triumph, the federal government’s borrowing and spending binge has only worsened. Just last month, the Congressional Budget Office projected an annual deficit of $1.5 trillion … which was the amount of the entire accumulated national debt in 1984.
On a more encouraging note, the scholarship on behalf of Article V’s relevance and utility has grown tremendously, especially in recent months. Professor Robert Natelson, for example, has conducted painstaking research to show that the Founders certainly did not construct Article V as an afterthought or an accident. From its conception, the provision was intended to be vigorously applied toward remedies for federal overreach. Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute has, through an ongoing series of works, cogently demonstrated that Article V is a fundamental element in our constitutional system of checks and balances, one whose exercise is both necessary and safe. They join modern-era conservatives in proclaiming the vital role of Article V such as Justice Antonin Scalia, who in 1979 wrote:
I have no fear that … extreme proposals would come out of a constitutional convention. … The founders inserted this alternative method of obtaining constitutional amendments because they knew the Congress would be unwilling to give attention to many issues the people are concerned with, particularly those involving restrictions on the federal government’s own power.”
Those words echo the opinion of Ronald Reagan, who stated forthrightly:
... [V]oices have been raised warning of danger that a constitutional convention would open the door to all manner of proposed amendments. In my view those who warn of this show little faith in our democratic procedures. The Constitution provides for both methods and the convention is a safety valve giving the people a chance to act if Congress refuses to.
Yet, during this time the naysayers have failed to muster any credible evidence for their case, preferring instead to conjure up the “nonexistent constitutional ghosts” that the late Senator Sam Ervin, an Article V advocate, warned about more than 20 years ago. We are told that the cure for federal profligacy lies in “electing the right leaders,” all while Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congresses abused the nation’s good credit. We were told that statutory measures would bring outlays under control, even as laws such as the Gramm-Rudman Hollings Act were trampled underfoot. We were told that elected officials need only “follow the constitution,” and there would be no justification to amend the nation’s foundational document. Today, the entire republic that our Constitution undergirds and guarantees is threatened with extinction due to reckless federal fiscal policies. We were told that limits on taxes and spending were too trivial for the Constitution, a notion that seems quaint today as our national debt tests the ominous level of 100 percent of the nation’s economic output. Unsustainable entitlement programs, whose dire condition has been known for at least 20 years now, threaten to heap unfathomable burdens on taxpayers.
In short, it is imperative for state lawmakers to exercise the power our precious Constitution has given them to prevent a catastrophe due to federal excesses. Your predecessors had the foresight to declare Indiana’s support for a BBA in 1979, when the General Assembly enacted an Article V resolution. To turn away from this path again now would be a tremendous mistake. As we wrote in “Why You Must Lead the Congress” over two decades ago:
The Founding Fathers had no way of predicting the current irresponsible spending policies of the federal government. Yet although they could not foretell the future, they were men of great wisdom. They did foresee the possibility that Congress might fail the people. It is for that reason that Article V of the U.S. Constitution enables the states to amend the Constitution.
Please review the checks and balances [on an amendment convention], then ask yourself several questions. Do you think the Founding Fathers made a mistake in providing the people with a way to reform the Congress, when Congress was part of the problem? Do you believe that Congress should be granted monopoly power over the amendment process? … [C]an you name one country which is not in big trouble because of the money it owes? The real danger facing America is national bankruptcy brought on by deficit spending by the United States Congress.
Such words have never been truer than today. Our members hope you will recognize this fact and pursue the most rational and safe option now before you: enact an Article V resolution for a limited convention to propose a Balanced Budget Amendment.
My organization has produced a wealth of materials that demonstrate why Article V had vital historical significance to the Founders, and how the Article V process contains numerous safeguards to prevent any so-called “runaway convention.” Please contact us with any questions you may have or information you may require in your deliberations. Above all, however, please do not allow this historic opportunity to restore fiscal responsibility slip from your grasp because of unfounded fears and ungrounded contentions.