By Charles Owens
Charles Owens is the Michigan director for the National Federation of Independent Business.
It is time for the states to step in and end the federal government's failure to address the basic budgeting to which every citizen and small business must adhere.
A process for doing just this was laid out by the framers of our Constitution in Article V. The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. An effort is now underway to use this power given to the states to correct the federal malfeasance in managing the national purse.
The Michigan Senate Government Operations Committee held a hearing on Senate Joint Resolution V which petitions Congress to call a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution of the United States to require a balanced federal budget. The resolution, sponsored by Senator Mike Green, is part of a nationwide effort to use the Article V process outlined in the U.S. Constitution to move Congress toward adopting a Balanced Budget Amendment. The process requires 34 state legislatures to adopt similar resolutions that would call for a convention to adopt the amendment. Nineteen states have already passed the resolution.
A review of the history concerning the 17th Amendment to the Constitution illustrates that this is a realistic and achievable goal.
After almost 85 years of resistance, the U.S. Senate finally consented in 1913 to Congressional proposal of what became the 17th Amendment when it became apparent that the states were on the verge of succeeding with only one state needed to call a convention under Article V. Whether the Article V effort motivates Congress to act or it succeeds on its own, taxpayers and citizens are the winners. It should also be understood that since the executive office does not have a Constitutional role in the amendment process, the proposed amendment does not go to the White House for signature or approval, but back to the states for final ratification by three fourths (38) states.
A balanced federal budget has only occurred twice in 30 years of federal budgeting. As we have observed in our own state, and have learned the hard way with the recent bankruptcy of Detroit, a continued imbalance in budgeting and accumulated debt lead to economic uncertainty and instability that inhibits job growth, personal income and opportunity.
There are those that are concerned about the impact a balanced budget requirement might have on social programs and the safety net for our vulnerable citizens. We must understand that any effective social safety net is ultimately woven of money. In the long run, the inability to budget properly is as much a danger to the viability of these programs as it is to anything else.
It is time for the states and its citizens to use the powers provided by the Founding Fathers to put an end to D.C.'s irresponsible fiscal behavior.
While small business owners have long supported a Balanced Budget Proposal (a recent National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) member survey indicated that 90 percent of small business owners want a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution), it should also be noted that polls by CNN, Fox News, and Mason-Dixon show that nearly three-fourths of Americans favor a balanced budget amendment as well.
Finally, it is interesting to note that this process has detractors from both conservative and liberal camps. Both like to raise the specter of a "runaway convention" where the entire U.S. Constitution could be changed. Most of this rhetoric is based on either group promoting their own narrow agenda. One of the checks on this unlikely scenario is the specificity of the resolutions in question. SJR V meets this requirement and is consistent with the resolutions passed by the other states that narrow a call for a convention to propose amendments to a balanced budget amendment only.
"There are far more political and legal constraints on a runaway convention than on a runaway Congress," notes Constitutional scholar Robert J. Natelson.
Michigan should join with the other 19 states and move this resolution forward.