MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin could become the 30th state to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional convention, on path to a federal balanced budget amendment.
Kapenga’s bill calls for Wisconsin’s involvement in a states convention to discuss an amendment requiring the federal government, like 49 of the states including Wisconsin, to operate under a balanced budget.
“We’re excited about it. We’ve got a good list of cosponsors, so it looks pretty good for this resolution to go through,” the Delafield Republican told Wisconsin Watchdog last week in an interview on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1130 in Milwaukee.
Kapenga also is introducing a Delegate Act and a Rules Resolution. The Delegate Act places certain restrictions on Wisconsin’s Delegates at the convention, while the Rules Resolution asserts that the Wisconsin Legislature prefers to convene a convention for proposing amendment language under a predesignated draft set of rules, according to a statement issued last week.
Wyoming late last month became the 29th state to pass an Article V resolution on a balanced budget amendment, according to the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. The number, however, includes Texas, which approved the measure decades ago, according to The Associated Press.
The Texas Senate last month approved a call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit federal power through a suite of changes, including a balanced budget rule and term limits, the AP reported.
“Under Article V of the Constitution, adding an amendment requires a two-thirds congressional vote and then ratification by three-fourths of states, or 38. That brought the country all 27 constitutional amendments,” AP reported.
“Because it’s hard to imagine Congress making itself less powerful, a second option is two-thirds of the states, or 34, requesting a national convention to draft amendments. Any amendments would subsequently have to be ratified by at least 38 states.”
Texas’ current campaign for a convention under Republican leadership goes beyond a balanced budget amendment pushed by some Article 5 proponents.
Supporters of a pure balanced budget amendment argue that the federal debt, quickly approaching $20 trillion, is now the greatest single risk to the United States.
“When I bring this forward, we’re not saying that everything else is a bad idea, but I have to deal with the political realities,” Kapenga said. “This is what people can rally around and I can get the votes on.”
“Now there are other things, like reducing federal powers in other areas. I fully agree with that and I think most people do,” the senator said. “But because we haven’t done this in the history of our nation before, people are a little more comfortable saying let’s go through a single subject first to make sure we understand how it works and get some comfort around it.”
Some conservatives are calling for a wider convention, laying out a suite of amendment items including congressional term limits, among other ideas. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said such amendments would correct “Washington’s refusal to place restrictions on itself.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has pushed at least nine constitutional amendments aimed at empowering a Tenth Amendment, which states’ rights advocates say has been grossly diminished by federal overreach.
While a balanced budget amendment sounds good to fiscal conservatives tired of out-of-control federal spending, others are concerned about a runaway convention.
Opponents of Citizens United would like to see a constitutional amendment “correcting” the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 campaign finance decision that opened up spending thresholds for corporations in the name of freedom of speech.
“On the left, a group founded by liberal TV host Cenk Uygur is pushing a convention aimed at overturning the Supreme Court’s hated Citizens United decision and declaring that from now on corporations should stop having rights, or at least not a right to spend money spreading political opinions,” Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute wrote last year in an opinion piece for the Daily Beast.
Some worry of a “runaway” Article V convention in which delegates start moving into myriad areas and end up messing with the rarely amended Constitution. The late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thought such a convention is a dangerously bad idea, saying, “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it?”
Proponents like Kapenga are hoping that a federal balanced budget amendment is the result of this important safeguard of our founders’ sacred road map to republican government.
“It’s amazing when you look at the wisdom they had in what is the best form of government,” the senator said. “This is the balance of federalism that we have to make sure we remember, as government, it’s the powers that were not specifically enumerated in the Constitution are supposed to be under the states.”
“All of us know that the federal power has significantly overreached what it should have and that’s why we are in trouble right now,” Kapenga added. “What we are saying as states is, “Listen, this is what the founders wanted us to do. They wanted us to ensure this release valve or this checks-and-balance system is working.”
M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]