- 2015 Session
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Keeping House By Representative Kraig Powell
Shamelessly scraped from Rep. Kraig Powell’s website on February 23rd, 2015.
This week on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives, House Joint Resolution 7 will be considered, after passing the House Revenue and Taxation Committee last week by a vote of 7-1. I drafted and introduced this legislation to propose the adoption of an amendment to the United States Constitution requiring Congress to operate the country under a balanced budget.
The United States is currently in debt by more than 18 trillion dollars. That number grows by approximately one trillion dollars every 1-2 years, with no end in sight to these increases. Although a certain amount of public debt is sometimes necessary during recessions, wars, emergencies, etc., Congress and the President have been unable to make the long-term structural changes needed to ensure the country’s solvency. Simply put, we cannot continue spending borrowed money at the present rate.
Interest payments on the national debt will soon be larger than almost any other single budget category. Investors in other countries have already begun to scale back their purchase of U.S. debt securities, signaling their belief that our country will be unable to pay back its loans. As this trend continues, interest rates will need to rise to encourage continued lending to the U.S. by foreign investors. But that will only make our problem worse, as it becomes more and more expensive for us to carry the debt. A national fiscal crisis like those recently experienced in Europe is a realistic possibility. Such a default by the U.S. would have far greater ramifications, likely plunging the entire world into an economic depression.
It is clear that Congress and the President must reform the federal budget, especially entitlement spending like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These programs are spending far more money each year than they are taking in. States like Utah have a constitutional requirement to balance the government’s budget. By and large, these states comply with this requirement and practice fiscal responsibility. Certain members of Congress have for years been suggesting that the U.S. Constitution be amended to require a balanced federal budget. To officially adopt such a proposal, however, requires a two-thirds vote of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, and Congress has never been able to muster such a super-majority.
But there is another method to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If the state legislatures in two-thirds of the states vote to call a convention to propose a constitutional amendment, Congress is required to convene such a convention. At the convention, delegates sent from each state would draft, propose and approve the language of the amendment. Once an amendment is officially proposed (either by Congress or by the convention of states), the amendment must then be ratified by state legislatures in three-fourths of all states.
The convention method of proposing an amendment has never been used in our country’s history. For this reason, the method frightens some people, who worry that such a convention could propose radical changes to our treasured Constitution. Although I understand this concern, I am satisfied that the benefits of holding the convention far outweigh its possible dangers. Because the specific subject of the convention (a balanced budget amendment) will be announced and understood, there is very little chance that a sizable number of states at the convention would go along with any proposal to consider other subjects.
Furthermore, the two-thirds of states who call for the convention will agree on procedural rules prior to the event, thereby prohibiting any other matters from being considered. Finally, in the unlikely event that convention delegates draft an unauthorized constitutional amendment, the amendment would never take effect unless three-fourths of all state legislatures officially ratify it, which would be nearly impossible.
Last week, South Dakota became the 25th state to approve the balanced budget amendment convention proposal. A total of 34 states are needed to trigger the holding of the convention. I am optimistic that this week the Utah House, and next week the Utah Senate, will make Utah the 26th state to join this important effort.
Please feel free to call me at 435-654-0501 or email me at email@example.com with any thoughts or suggestions you have about legislative proposals to be considered prior to the legislature’s scheduled adjournment on March 12.