By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog
Saying the national debt is the most critical social and economic issue of our time, Ohio lawmakers want a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
State Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, on Wednesday called the size of the national debt a “terrible, horrific” problem that could only be solved by the states demanding a balanced-budget amendment and forcing the federal government to live within its means.
In August, Gov. John Kasich called for a convention to add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, saying the “nation’s future stability requires it and the American people deserve it.”
Huffman is the primary sponsor of House Joint Resolution 7, an application to Congress, under the provisions of Article V of the Constitution of the United States, calling for a convention of the states limited to proposing a balanced-budget amendment.
Article V details two ways in which the Constitution can be amended. One is for two-thirds of Congress to pass a proposed amendment and then three-fourths of the states adopt it. The other is for two-thirds of state legislatures to pass resolutions calling for a convention to propose an amendment. If successful, Congress is compelled to set a convention. If an amendment is approved during a convention, it is sent to the states, where three-fourths of the states would have to approve before the amendment can be added to the Constitution.
Huffman said it is an arduous process that ensures only amendments with broad-based support are approved, noting that only 27 amendments have been made to the document since it became effective March 4, 1789.
Huffman introduced a similar measure six years ago, but did not receive broad support.
“I was surprised that the main opposition to this came from what some would label as far-right groups who were afraid that a convention would result in numerous amendments that might erode the existing Constitution and Bill of Rights,” he said.
“But this is not a process where something incredibly bad or a non-mainsteam idea can surface because of all the steps you have to go through.”
Huffman said it would be unfair to claim the current administration or Congress is solely to blame for the budget problems. He said the problem is inherent in the way government at the federal level is set up.
“Everyone has their own needs and wants,” he said. “Somebody always thinks we need to spend more money on something else. That’s not going to change and the problem has gotten a lot worse since the 1960s when we started taking money out of the pension fund and spending it on other operations. In the mid-1980s it got to be a crisis and now people realize just how desperate the problem is.”
Huffman said the process of limiting spending by the federal government needs to be done dispassionately.
“The state legislatures need to put their hand on the shoulder of their friend the national government and say ‘you’ve got a problem and I need to solve your problem for you,’ because they can’t do it,” he said.
Echoing Kasich’s claim that states routinely balance their budgets, Huffman said it was easier for the federal government to spend more than they have “because they can.”
“And they’re going to continue unless we do something about it,” he said.
That sentiment was shared by Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, who said the Founding Fathers didn’t envision “a government that would spend us into oblivion.”
“The debt we have racked up is unsustainable,” Buchy said. “It is incumbent upon us … to bind them to the constitution by having a balanced budget amendment.”
Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, said that a convention may not even be necessary, noting that the 17th Amendment calling for the direct election of senators was opposed by the Senate.
“It was only after 31 states passed motions for reform that Congress acted and sent back to the states the 17th Amendment,” he said.
He said he hoped the same thing would happen with this call for a balanced budget amendment.
Mark Guyer, co-founder of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, said 17 states already have called for the convention. Michigan and Wisconsin are expected to take up the issue after Ohio.
“A balanced-budget amendment is the strongest possible legal mandate,” Guyer said. “Nothing else will work.”
The General Assembly will have to vote on the measure before it can be forwarded to Congress.