States Pursue New Tactic to Restrain Federal Debt
Louisiana one of 10 states with leaders seeking Jeffersonian, anti-debt amendment
NEW ORLEANS, La. – Americans fed up with expanding federal debt, officially at $14 trillion, are seeking to revive a Jeffersonian wish and address it without begging to congress.
The National Debt Relief Amendment, with two legislative sponsors in Louisiana, is rapidly advancing towards being the first state-initiated constitutional amendment since ratification. The NDRA, promoted by RestoringFreedom.org, reads:
“An increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate States.” (Arizona proponents explain the amendment in the following clip. Article continues below.)
While state leaders have Article V authority for an amendments convention, thus far they have failed to reach the two-thirds initiation threshold. All 27 amendments have gone through Congress before ratification by three fourths of the states.
With the North Dakota Senate’s bipartisan passage of the NDRA resolution (SCR 4007) on February 22, and with Arizona and Missouri soon to vote, momentum is building for that precedent to end.
Louisiana representatives Kirk Talbot (R – River Ridge) and Nick Lorusso (R – New Orleans) have agreed to introduce the same resolution, and they are joined by legislators from Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah (listed here). Additionally, the nation’s largest nonpartisan association of state legislators, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has endorsed the NDRA and prepared model legislation.
Noble Ellington (R – Winnsboro), chair of ALEC and another Louisiana representative, has also expressed his support. Ellington acknowledges that constitutional amendments are difficult to pass, but he sees a favourable legislature and a more opportune time than any he can remember.
James Booth, cofounder of RestoringFreedom.org, asserts bipartisan support and that, based on current momentum, the NDRA will become an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He anticipates that at least five state legislatures will pass such resolutions in their next sessions.
“The necessity and appropriateness of the amendment has been self-evident to almost all who have reviewed it,” Booth says. “In just 18 non-partisan words it addresses the run-away federal debt, restores a portion of our federalist system of government, and creates a broad national dialogue and consensus over the use of our children’s and grandchildren’s resources.”
He also notes the Jeffersonian origin of a “missing” amendment against federal debt.
“I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our constitution… taking from the federal government the power of borrowing,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in a 1798 letter.
The primary opposition does not appear to be against fiscal restraint; already 49 of the 50 states have their own form of balanced budget constraint. Rather, the concern is over targeting of resources and the uncertainties of an Article V convention.
G. Edward Griffin, founder of Freedom Force International, says the federal debt problem is “huge.” But he sees pleas to “spending maniacs” as futile.
“The solution is to replace the maniacs with real constitutionalists… new legislation or amendments are not necessary. In fact, they are a diversion. All that is necessary is to stop the spending. We don’t need words on a piece of paper for that. What we need are honorable and intelligent legislators… If we can’t produce them, there is no hope whatsoever.”
Matthew Spalding, a constitutional scholar with the Heritage Foundation, describes the yet-to-occur, convention process as dubious and unpredictable, lacking clear lines of authority and vulnerable to litigation.
“The idea that we can and should actually hold such a convention – that it is an easy and pretty straightforward matter – is wildly mistaken and distracts us from the focus of achieving a constitutional amendment.”
Even if the NDRA were successful, Sheila Weinberg of the Institute for Truth in Accounting says it would need to consider true federal debt. She equates that to “at the very least $56 trillion” – $183,000 for every man, woman, and child – including Social Security and Medicare liabilities.
“Congress amasses debt by increasing entitlement programs’ liabilities without even calculating these costs… We cannot really address our debt issues until we understand our true financial condition.”
To resolve the variety of concerns, the Goldwater Institute, an independent, Arizona-based policy institute, has been hosting educational events and publishing research on the amendments convention process.
Booth supports Goldwater’s work and sees education as a vital part of the process.
“Once the facts are presented and the old myths surrounding the process are swept away, people become supporters,” he says.
Click here for a list of state sponsors.
Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and editor of The Pelican Post. He can be contacted at email@example.com, and one can follow him on twitter.