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August 2016 Policy Study, Number 16-2


Restoring Constitutionalism, Federalism, and Solving our National Fiscal Crisis: The Possibility of an Article V Convention of the States





The United States is confronted with a serious economic and fiscal crisis that is not only threatening our economy, but also our national security. This fiscal crisis is a result of decades of out-of-control spending by the federal government, and both Republicans and Democrats can share in the blame. The federal budget is $4 trillion, and the national debt is approaching $20 trillion. This does not even include the trillions in future obligations from entitlement programs. In order to address this problem, several conservative and libertarian political leaders and scholars are calling for the states to organize an Article V convention of the states for the purpose of restoring federalism and getting federal spending under control.


Article V of the United States Constitution deals with the process to amend the Constitution. One option for amending the Constitution is for two-thirds of the states to petition Congress to offer amendments in a convention of the states. This is referred to as an Article V convention, which has yet to occur. Supporters of an Article V convention argue that this is the only solution for the states to restore both federalism and fiscal responsibility to the federal government. As Alexander Hamilton stated, “We may safely rely on the disposition of the state legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.”[1]This is the goal of an Article V convention.


A second, related goal of many supporters of an Article V convention is to bolster the threat of future retaliation against national Judges, Legislators, and bureaucrats who push for expansion of national governmental power at the expense of the states, local governments, and people. Over the years, dozens of amendments, such as the balanced budget amendment, have been introduced in Congress, but not one of them has passed. If even one mild limit on the expansion of the power of the national government were to be adopted through the Article V convention route — and the world did not come to an end as envisioned by both left- and right-wing critics of such a process — it would give greater pause to any rational politician contemplating further erosion of the limits the Founders’ thought they had erected with the adoption of the Constitution. Who knows, if they push too hard, a future Article V convention might pass amendments which would limit their personal pay, pensions, or other perks.


Nevertheless, there are legitimate concerns and many unanswered questions in regard to an Article V convention, especially in regard to the rules and procedures of the convention and the possibility of a runaway convention. The Iowa Legislature should consider and debate the merits of an Article V convention, but policymakers need to act with caution and prudence. In the end, any restoration of constitutionally limited government will require not only federal and state political leaders willing to follow the Constitution, but also an American people who have rediscovered the Constitution and the values of the American Founding. 




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