An historic event occurred in Phoenix, Arizona in September. Seventy-one delegates from 19 states attended the Arizona Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention (AZ BBA) on September 12 — 15. The most recent convention of the states was the Washington Peace Conference, held in 1861. Its goal was to prevent what became the Civil War. The Arizona Planning Convention’s purpose was to devise a set of rules so that a future convention of the states can propose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Fortunately, the AZ BBA was a success, and the future of America may very well be more prosperous because of it.
When drafting the Constitution, the Framers envisioned a time when the federal government (and national debt) would grow beyond their wildest dreams—or nightmares. For instance, Thomas Jefferson warned his contemporaries, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” To counter this truism, the Founding Fathers employed the principle of federalism throughout the Constitution. Such is the reason that under Article V, amendments to the Constitution can be proposed either by two-thirds of both houses of Congress or by two-thirds of the states. Regardless of which body proposes the amendment, three-fourths of the states must vote to ratify the amendment in order for it to become part of the Constitution.
The Constitution has been amended 27 times (including the Bill of Rights). So far, every single amendment has been proposed by Congress. This is why the AZ BBA is such a landmark achievement. The next step is for one of the several existing Article V movements to gain enough state applications proposing an Article V amendments convention (34) to cross the two-thirds threshold. Movements promoting a balanced budget and/or term limits are currently the most popular being pursued. To date, the Balanced Budget Amendment Taskforce has 27 of the 34 state applications required to call an Article V Convention.
The AZ BBA was similar to a beta-test for a convention of the states; the delegates diligently worked to produce a set of rules and procedures that should serve a future convention very well. The rules produced at the AZ BBA, if adopted by a convention of the states, makes this time-consuming and burdensome task unnecessary in the future.
The rules created at the AZ BBA cover several significant points. Most importantly, the AZ BBA rules stipulate “its authority is limited to the subject of proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States regarding balancing the federal budget as specified in applications from at least two-thirds of the States. This Convention and these delegates have no authority to propose an amendment or amendments on any other subject.” This means under these rules, the convention is strictly prohibited from proposing any amendment other than a balanced budget amendment.
Opponents of a convention of the states—yes, there are many—base their arguments against the convention on the idea that the convention will “runaway” and become a free-for-all in terms of amending any aspect of the Constitution. Fearmongers argue a convention of the states could produce an entirely new Constitution. The AZ BBA made this a moot point, due to the rule that states only a balanced budget amendment may be proposed. The scope of a future convention, according to the rules produced by the AZ BBA, would be solely focused on an amendment to balance the budget – something most Americans support, especially now that the national debt stands at over $20 trillion.
It is remarkable Congress has not, and probably never will, propose such an amendment. The sad fact is Congress is probably never going to propose any amendment that will reduce its ability to spend money, which congressmen use to help them get reelected. Hence, there is a significant need for a convention of the states to force Congress’ hand on matters concerning reducing the size and scope of the federal government.
The rules devised at the AZ BBA encompass a wide berth. Everything from what convention officers should be called (they ultimately decided on “delegates”) to the method of voting. (On this issue, “All voting at the Convention or in a committee shall be by State with each State having one vote, without apportionment or division.” This ensures that all states will be equally represented, regardless of population size.)
The 71 delegates put in long hours to establish a set of rules that, at the very least, can serve as a solid foundation for a future convention of the states.
The AZ BBA was just the first step in a chain of events that could produce extraordinary results. As the 2016 election demonstrated, the American people are fed up with the way things are done in the Washington, DC “swamp”.
The election of Donald Trump, a businessman with no political background, to the highest office in the land was a stunning result that almost nobody in the mainstream media or DC establishment forecasted. It seems that the time is ripe for another unprecedented political occurrence, this time in the shape of a constitutional amendment (or two) proposed by the states to limit the out-of-control federal government.