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October 2016 Policy Study, Number 16-3


How To Restore Federal Fiscal Sanity: The State Legislatures Hold The Key


Will Congress Propose The Balanced Budget Amendment Rather Than Call A Convention?



Why will Congress want to write the amendment first?


Having disposed of these false fears of a constitutional convention, we should remember one more point: the convention won’t be held.  Congress will almost certainly write the amendment rather than letting a convention do it.


When the states finally compel Congress to act, Congress will vote to propose its own version of a Balanced Budget Amendment.  Letting a convention do it would surely result in a more strict amendment, possibly including penalties for failing to balance the budget.  Therefore, when the number of state Balanced Budget Amendment convention resolutions reaches 33 or 34, Congress will be forced to act.


This is exactly what happened with the 17th Amendment.  At the beginning of this century, the U.S. Senate repeatedly refused to vote for an amendment requiring the direct election of Senators.  When 30 states (one short of the necessary two-thirds at that time) approved limited convention calls, the Senate caved in and voted for the 17th Amendment.


There is another reason Congress will propose the amendment rather than letting a convention do it.  Incumbents would not want potential opponents to gain fame and media exposure at a convention.  It would be an incumbent’s nightmare – a future opponent winning an election as a convention delegate – helping to write the Balanced Budget Amendment that Congress refused to propose.


But if 34 State Legislatures apply for a constitutional convention, isn’t Congress required to call one?


Not if Congress proposes the Balanced Budget Amendment before calling a convention.

At least eight of the states’ resolutions for a Balanced Budget Amendment and convention call contain a self-destruct clause.  It says that if Congress proposes a Balanced Budget Amendment, then the state’s request for a convention becomes void.


Thus, even if Congress waits until 34 states have adopted the convention-call resolutions, Congress can void a convention by promptly proposing the Balanced Budget Amendment.  At that moment, there will no longer be 34 states calling for a convention.


Is this one more reason why fears are false?


Yes.  American history tells us we have no reason to fear an Article V constitutional convention, but it almost certainly won’t be held because Congress – when forced to act – will prefer to write the amendment rather than calling a convention to write it. 




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