Gov. John Kasich wants Ohio’s General Assembly to join the effort to get a balanced budget amendment added to the U.S. Constitution. The resolution passed the Senate 28-3 and is now before the House.
The amendment remains an impractical idea. Moreover, the method of adopting it proposed by Mr. Kasich and legislators would open a Pandora’s Box that could threaten every citizen’s well-being and the financial health of the United States.
Under Article V, the Constitution can be amended two ways: by two-thirds votes in the U.S. House and Senate, the tradition used for every amendment adopted since the Bill of Rights in 1789; or a national convention called for by two-thirds (34) of the states — Mr. Kasich’s plan.
The latter is untested and risks creating a runaway convention, despite being ordered by Congress to limit itself to one issue.
Proponents insist delegates would take an oath to limit their actions. They note that the Ohio resolution is worded to limit the convention to one topic. But as the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger noted: “The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. … After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.”
He cited the 1787 convention. Convened to revise the Articles of Confederation, it ended up discarding its original intent, passing a new Constitution, and forming a new government.
More than 30 states have petitioned for a convention on a balanced budget in the past, but some have rescinded their efforts, reducing the number to 19.
Ohio would be the 20th.
Mr. Kasich concedes that he doesn’t really want a convention: He wants the threat from 34 states to force Congress to act.
That is a risky strategy. Such a convention could still convene once petitioned and be dictated by the very Tea Party Republicans who recently shut down the government for 16 days.
Even the First Amendment could be tampered with.
Proponents argue that whatever the convention produced would have to be ratified by 38 states to be added to the Constitution.
Mr. Kasich, who supported a federal balanced budget amendment when he was a congressman, argues that the federal goverment’s inability to manage the budget is inexcusable. In the past 50 years, he said, the federal government has had only five balanced budgets and currently carries $16.7 trillion in debt.
No one knows precisely how a balanced budget amendment would be worded, but key provisions could outlaw deficit spending in any year, or require a supermajority vote of both House and Senate to pass an “unbalanced budget,” raise the debt limit, or raise taxes.
The amendment could also limit federal spending to 16.7 percent of the gross domestic product. That number is well below not only what it was in the Reagan Administration, but also for decades, says Richard Kogan, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.
Rigid spending mandates could prohibit the government from reacting to a recession and national emergencies, plunging the nation into worse financial shape. They could force deep spending cuts, including federal aid to Ohio and other states, and hold Congress hostage to brinkmanship exercised by a knot of congressmen whose votes would be needed to reach a required supermajority.
Opposing a balanced budget amendment does not mean opposition to a balanced budget. That is a worthy goal.
But it is not appropriate to tinker with the Constitution by proposing amendments of such narrow focus.
Balancing the budget is the responsibility of Congress, not the Constitution.
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