Most Americans don’t relish the thought of our children and grandchildren paying down the out-of-control federal debt over the next several decades. But with a national debt level now approaching $17 trillion, Americans must face up to the fact that Washington won’t fix itself: The best hope for fixing the spiraling federal bill is using the constitutional powers of the states.
In a policy report released this week, Goldwater Institute Director of Policy Development Nick Dranias proposes the Compact for America, an interstate compact concept to advance a balanced budget amendment through state legislatures. If approved by 38 states, the Compact would require the federal government to obtain the approval of the majority of legislatures to green light any increase above an initial debt limit. In other words, 26 states would have to cosign for the federal government’s credit card.
“While there are many balanced budget amendment proposals out there, the Compact for America has the best chances for passage,” said Dranias. “It will cut the time and resources needed for successfully advancing this much-needed reform by more than half, making a powerful balanced budget amendment possible for the first time.”
The Compact doesn’t wait around on Washington to initiate balanced budget amendment. Instead it establishes an agreement among the states to use the powers granted to them by Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The Founders established Article V to provide a failsafe to the states in the event that Washington overstepped its bounds. The provision allows states to originate constitutional amendments by applying for a convention to propose amendments. Unlike merely seeking to hold a constitutional convention, the Compact consolidates both the convention application and the content of the proposed balanced budget amendment itself, which would speed up the process significantly.
This feature of the Compact should reassure traditional opponents of Article V conventions, who have previously feared the prospect of a runaway constitutional convention. Under the Compact the convention cannot proceed unless the agenda is limited to a balanced budget amendment. As written, the compact bars any member state from ratifying any convention proposal other than the balanced budget amendment it specifies.
Once passed, the Compact would also quell fears of across-the-board tax increases to meet new revenue demands by requiring any new income or sales tax to secure two-thirds approval of both houses of Congress.
“The Founders enabled the states to rein in a runaway federal government through mechanisms like the Compact for America,” said Dranias. “This is our country’s best chance at achieving the critical protection of a balanced budget amendment.”