Conservatives stymied on passing a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution have hit upon the notion of a convention of the states to amend the constitution, as provided in Article V. Some progressives have hit upon the idea of a convention to get money out of politics--a possibility dubbed by some as the "runaway convention."
To keep those progressive ideas out of the constitution, the American Legislative Exchange Council has adopted a resolution supporting the Compact for America: Balanced Budget Amendment.
On Monday night at the Chanhassen Rec Center, ALEC member and West Fargo Republican state legislator Kim Koppleman and a convention of the states volunteer activist from Alexandria will discuss "Article V, Balanced Budget, Amendment Initiative, Term Limits & Compact for America" at 7:00 p.m.
To get a flavor of the dainties that the Tea Party will be serving up, we recommend checking out a 2013 episode of the Glenn Beck Show, guest hosted by historical fabulist David Burton of Wallbuilders, in which Koppelman appeared:
State Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-CO) and State Representative Kim Koppelman (R-ND) joined David to talk about a new movement among many conservatives involving Article V. Though Alexander Hamilton believed a national government was necessary, he explained in Federalist No. 85 that the role of Article V was to provide the states a check against Congress. With that in mind, is a second Constitutional Convention possible?
Here's the clip:
Not every conservative's dream date
Despite being touted on the Glenn Beck Show
Late last year, Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio promoted the idea in a campaign trail speech in Iowa. Former Hot Air blogger and current Commentary staffer Noah Rothman scoffed at the move in A Pander for the Ages:
. . .There is a peculiar irony to the fact that a constitutional Convention of States is viewed so favorably by those conservatives who are convinced their side of the political fight does nothing but lose. Moreover, it is a risky approach to amending the Constitution beyond the existing process, which demands overwhelming consensus and years of tempering consideration. Convention proponents don’t seem to see much risk in this process.
Those who are not possessed of infinite faith in their powers of persuasion contend that the Convention of States cannot “run away” from the initial intentions of the conventioneers because some state legislatures will impose penalties on delegates who deviate from the approved agenda. In this way, convention backers claim, only the constitutional amendments conservatives favor – a Balanced Budget Amendment and term limits for federal officials – can be passed and, eventually, ratified. As of today, however, only three states have approved “delegate limitation” or “faithful delegate” acts. Just seven more states have proposed such acts. Further, of the over 30 states that have called for a convention, many did so in the 1980s when the political makeup of the Union was much different. Some of those states have since rescinded their support for a Convention of States, reducing the number of states supporting a convention to as few as 23. This should tell conservatives who support this item something about the nature of competing interests and the rapid pace at which popular sentiment can evolve. To induce more states to call for a convention, the scope of such a gathering would have to broaden substantially.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no rules for such a convention. Congress has tried on over 20 occasions to craft a uniform set of rules governing a convention process, but it has failed every time. The Congressional Research Service cannot definitively assert that a constitutional convention can have a limited focus, and its review of precedent seems to reinforce the notion that a sovereign convention of the people enjoys broad autonomy from state and federal legislatures. Despite frequent assertions that a “runaway” convention is simply not possible, there are no guarantees that conservative delegates can maintain total control over such a radical process. By design, a convention to reconsider the existing amendments, including those in the Bill of Rights, will have an expansive agenda. Conservatives might be surprised to learn that their liberal colleagues are fully empowered to litigate their own grievances with America’s governing charter. And everyone has a problem with the Constitution.
Bernie Sanders liberals are disgusted by the First Amendment’s freedoms as defined by the Supreme Court that overturned the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform laws. They introduced a new amendment to the Constitution in the Senate that would rewrite the First just last year. Democrats, in general, have for decades sought to limit the freedoms in the Second Amendment, and a recent series of judicial impediments to doing so render the amendment process the best vehicle for enacting far-reaching gun control laws. One ill-timed incident of gun violence amid a convention might foment the rise of a movement in support of such a measure. Libertarians would surely like to strengthen elements of the Fourth Amendment to prevent agencies like the National Security Agency, the Transportation Safety Administration, and the Defense Department from pursuing present methods of information collection and retention. Conservatives of the Levin school would not be happy with a narrow convention agenda that declines to repeal the 17th Amendment, allowing for the direct election of U.S. senators. Further, some hope to draft an amendment that would allow a three-fifths vote of Congress or state legislative bodies to overturn Supreme Court verdicts – eliminating another check on majoritarian governance the Founders, in their wisdom, imposed on posterity.
When the convention ever gets around to considering a Balanced Budget Amendment, media scrutiny of that provision would soon render it toxic. The center-left press would soon discover that America’s largest debt drivers are entitlements, but also sprawling executive branch agencies like the departments of energy, education, and transportation. Does anyone imagine that in today’s polarized age Democrats would sit on their hands while conservatives unilaterally threatened the government’s ability to fund those initiatives? In order to secure liberal support for a BBA, it might be subject to unforeseen revision.
Some convention supporters display unique faith in the tempering power of the ratification process. Any amendments sent to the states out of this convention must be ratified by three-fourths of the Union, therefore only the most popular provisions will be adopted. Amendments 16 through 18, however, granted substantial powers to the federal government and were broadly popular at the time of their ratification. Those who opposed prohibition bowed to popular pressure and agreed to a provision that would sunset the amendment if it was not ratified by three-fourths of the states within seven years of its passage by Congress. They were shocked when it was adopted by a sufficient number of states in just under 13 months. . . .
Well, perish the thought. No wonder the John Birch Society hates the idea.
In 2015, in Ignorance is Risk, a op-ed piece at US News and World Report, managing editor for opinion Robert Schlesinger wrote:
While such an assembly has never been called, the convention route is enjoying a period of vogue in some quarters. As many as 27 states (there’s some dispute regarding the precise number, having to do with whether these applications ever expire) have passed resolutions calling for a convention focused on a balanced budget amendment and those pro-convention forces targeted another baker’s dozen this year. Seven states failed to pass the amendments this year, according to David Biddulph, who cofounded the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. But that leaves six more states, including two – South Carolina and Wisconsin (which doesn't have a bill yet but is expected to get one later in the year) – that are completely GOP controlled, which is significant because the balanced budget amendment push comes predominantly from the right. (There are progressive pro-convention forces as well; four states have passed resolutions focused on overturning Citizens United.)
Skip whether a balanced budget amendment is a good idea (it’s not) and instead marvel at the convention idea being that rare uniter of Washington’s disparate partisans. “It’s not a bad idea, it’s a disastrous idea,” says liberal activist Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21. Uber-conservative Utah Sen. Mike Lee sees “dangers” and “great risks.” The conservative blog Hot Air earlier this month ran a post proclaiming it “the right’s worst idea,” while liberal Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein had a piece two days later headlined “The Worst Idea in American Politics.”
. . .And this would be the Super Bowl of lobbying. Imagine the fabulous amounts of money that would be spent trying to tweak the Constitution. Actually, imagine is exactly what you might have to do. Would there be lobbying disclosure rules? Would there be limits on what gifts or favors delegates could accept? We don’t know. . .
And how much traction has it gotten? Schlesinger continued:
Update, May 1, 2015: There's marginally more clarity on one issue than I had initially realized; starting this year, the House Judiciary Committee has kept a running tally of certified "memorials" (as the term of art appears to be) from states either requesting an Article V convention or repealing a previous request. As of this writing, Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the committee's chairman, has certified 15 memorials from 12 states; seven of these resolutions have focused on a balanced budget amendment, three have focused on a broader formula of fiscal restraint, limited government and term limits, three want a convention to fix the Citizens United decision, one wants to amend the Constitution to prevent Congress from passing bills that deal with more than one subject and one – from South Carolina – repeals the state's previous call for an Article V convention.
This brings somewhat more light to the matter – here Congress is again trying to assert some control over the process – but arguments remain. To wit, Friends of the Article V Convention, the group which brought this list to my attention, has counted an amazing 766 applications over the years – dating all the way back to a general call for an Article V convention in 1789 from New York, Virginia and Rhode Island and including resolutions that have since been repealed – covering topics ranging from nullification to polygamy to apportionment to abortion. This group is of the opinion that a convention is well past due and that Congress violates the Constitution by not calling one.
Assuming the tally is accurate we have some clarity through inaction; Congress thinks that for some reason or reasons – memorials having to be, say, contemporaneous or related to the same topic – the various applications don't meet the two-thirds threshold. Is Congress right? I certainly hope so. In any case, the bulk of my argument obtains: The Article V convention route is a murky and thus perilous course to which to commit the Constitution.
Both Rothman and Schlesinger mention the non-partisan Congressional Research Service look at the issue. Here it is:
The Convention of the States Project - Minnesota Facebook page brings up issues such as lobbying and Common Core, as well as reducing spending.
Photo: Cropped from the screencap for a Council of State Governments Youtube in which Kim Koppelman explains how North Dakota was able to weather the recession. SW Metro Tea Party volunteer Fred Koppelman is the brother of the North Dakota state lawmaker, who spoke to the Chanhassen group in April 2012:
Tonight’s guest speaker was Kim Koppelman (Fred’s brother) North Dakota Representative. His presentation offered hope and a positive outlook for “Restoring America’s Greatness, One Patriot at a Time”. Quote: "We thought Washington was a cesspool, but when we got there, we found out it was a Jacuzzi.” He went into how Barrack Obama has usurped power since becoming president by trampling religious freedom and free speech.
Since Monday night's other speaker loathes Saul Alinsky-style intimidation and isn't really a public figure, we're leaving his name out of this.
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