Lawmakers call for constitutional convention
State Sen. Tom Tiffany, who is running for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, and state Rep. Dan Knodl are advancing a bill in the Legislature that would call for a Convention of States to amend the United States Constitution to address the crushing debt and reorient the power of the people out of Washington, D.C., and into the states. Should we? Yes, but there will be unintended and unpredictable consequences.
The U.S. Constitution allows two methods to amend the Constitution. The method that has always been used is for the federal Legislature to pass an amendment that is then ratified by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the states. This is how the Bill of Rights was passed, slaves were liberated, and the voting franchise extended to all adult citizens.
The other method for amending the Constitution, which has not been used since the Constitution was written, is for a full constitutional convention to be assembled if two-thirds of the states call for it. The constitutional convention can then amend the Constitution completely. To date, 28 states have already called for an Article V Convention. It takes 34 states to call a convention.
The reasons that states have been calling for a constitutional convention are many and complex, but they all spring from a frustration that our federal government has become too big, too expensive, and too insensitive to the people. It is the same frustration that brought us the tea party movement and President Trump.
In Wisconsin, the stated reasons for calling for a constitutional convention is that we should amend the Constitution to impose a balanced budget upon the federal government, term limits on federal representatives, and reassert the 10th Amendment. Arguably, the most important reason to amend the Constitution is to impose fiscal responsibility on our federal government.
Both political parties have sacrificed fiscal sanity at the altars of power and politics. The result is a $22.5 trillion national debt with another trillion dollars added to it this year alone. That is a debt of $183,000 per person, or $732,000 for a family of four. There are many things that can kill a country, but massive debt is a sure way. History has repeatedly shown us that when the debt bill comes due, that massive taxes, hyperinflation, and collapsing economies follow. Then comes unemployment, instability, riots, and bloodshed. The United States is not immune to these forces. If we do not control our debt, it is only a matter of time before our nation goes the way of Venezuela, Weimar Germany, or Argentina.
While the problems in our federal government are myriad and severe, calling a constitutional convention is not without risk. Once called, there is no way to restrict the activities of the convention to a specific list of goals. The convention can choose to completely rewrite the Constitution or do nothing at all. Recall that the venerated Constitutional Convention of 1787, which created our current Constitution, was called into being for the expressly limited purpose of making a few tweaks to the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they rewrote history.
When and if a constitutional convention is convened, it will be filled with delegates from across the nation with very different ideas about how our nation should look and what constraints, if any, should be put on federal power. Some will seek to impose the socialist utopia being advocated by some of the presidential candidates. Some will seek a drastic reduction in the federal government. Some will just want to clean up some perceived errors in the current Constitution. Some will seek a completely new construction.
Convening a constitutional convention is risky because nobody really knows what it will produce. Some will think that it is better to deal with the devil we know instead of possibly creating a worse one. But given that our federal government is on course that will obliterate our nation as we know it with seemingly no will or way to impede that course, it is worth the risk.
(Owen B. Robinson is a West Bend resident. He can be reached at owen@bootsandsabers. com.)