States Pursue New Tactic to Restrain Federal Debt

Budget, Constitution, Featured — By on February 27, 2011 9:29 pm
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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.

Thomas Jefferson. Source: letter to John Taylor, November 26, 1798.

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.

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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 fhodgson@pelicaninstitute.org, and one can follow him on twitter.

Related posts:

  1. States May Check Federal Government with Constitutional Amendments
  2. Federal Largesse Does Not Benefit States
  3. A New Record: $1.6 Trillion Deficit for the United States
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  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/6EWDTDGGPM2NUB23WZXTLKO6DI Lorili

    What would be the point of a constitutional amendment? The government doesn’t follow the constitution anyway.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O5ZDQAH6ZR2RPOCN6ZJCITW3QM James Booth

      That’s the beauty of the National Debt Relief Amendment. It doesn’t require the courts to enforce it. Would you buy debt that was issued without the Constitutionally mandated approval? The financial marketplace would be the primary enforcement mechanism. To buy unapproved federal debt would be like someone buying a house without a clear title. Not many games they can play, The Treasury either has the necessary approval to issue bonds or it doesn’t.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/4BURH23ECV5Y233OBCJTCWZP2U Don

    It’s best not to let them start meddling with our constitution…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Phillips/1019274167 Jeff Phillips

    It needs to be a 2/3rds vote of the states to approve debt increases, not a simple majority. As soon as the democrats take majority seats in 26 state legislatures, the federal debt would yoyo back and forth with every election that followed, as it would piss everybody off, they’d vote in republicans, and then the republicans would get blamed for everything and the next election we’d be back to democrats. Federal government would go huge then tiny, huge then tiny. It’d be insane.

    Make it 2/3rds, so as to require bipartisan cooperation to approve all debt increases, and be done with it.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4EGJLMUSCMZDBTNVAKAJWWS25Y robertm

    There’s a book called “Hologram of Liberty” by William Royce. It breaks down the Constitution bit by bit on how it was created and INTENTIONALLY written to dupe the American people. This is one of those scenarios he warns of.

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