COLUMBUS, Ohio — This week, Ohio became the 20th state to join the push for an unprecedented national convention to draw up a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
But the debate still continues about both the wisdom of a federal balanced-budget amendment and the consequences that such a convention would have for other proposed constitutional changes.
And as supporters now look to other states to pass their own resolutions, Senate President Keith Faber and other Ohio Republican lawmakers are preparing to attend a national meeting of state lawmakers to lay the groundwork for how such a convention would work.
Senate Joint Resolution 5, which passed the Ohio General Assembly on Wednesday, calls for a U.S. constitutional amendment requiring the federal government not to spend more money than it takes in, except in the event of a national emergency.
It’s not just a symbolic vote: under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, such a convention would be held if 34 state legislatures ask for it. Whatever the convention delegates come up with would then have to be ratified by 38 states to take effect.
Such a convention isn’t imminent – even backers of the idea say it will take several years to get legislative endorsements from 14 more states.
The GOP-backed resolution, which received a smattering of Democratic support, came after Gov. John Kasich vowed in August to lead a multi-state initiative to pass the amendment.
Kasich will join other prominent state GOP political figures in Lima on Monday to sign letters notifying President Obama and congressional leaders of the resolution’s passage, the governor’s office said Friday.
The governor and other supporters say the amendment is needed to rein in the colossal national debt, which stands at $17 trillion and growing.
Critics, though, say a balanced-budget requirement would either lead to tax increases or deep cuts in federal funding to programs such as Medicaid – which was recently and controversially expanded in Ohio.
But there’s also a larger dispute about whether to hash out the wording of the amendment through a never-before-tried convention of the states. To date, all 27 constitutional amendments were proposed through Congress.
Scott Rogers, executive director of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, a Virginia-based nonprofit that has pushed for a convention, said his group’s goal isn’t just to balance the federal budget but to bring to life a process states can use in the future to advance other constitutional changes.
“I think the Article V process gives teeth to the Tenth Amendment,” Rogers said.
“It gives states a certain amount of power vis-a-vis the federal government to make sure that we’re ensuring a balance in federal and state power.”
Faber, though, has said his goal isn’t to hold a convention, but to get a federal balanced-budget amendment passed.
“Our hope is that Congress will recognize its lack of leadership in this area and that the potential of action through the states will compel them to get their financial house in order,” said Senate GOP spokesman John McClelland.
Lawmakers and observers from both sides of the political spectrum, however, have expressed concern that convention delegates would go beyond a balanced-budget amendment and look to make more drastic changes to the U.S. Constitution on any number of hot-button issues.
“Once a constitutional convention convenes, delegates’ behavior would be very difficult to predict,“ said Wendy Patton, senior project director for liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio. “We’re concerned that there would be unnecessary changes, inappropriate changes.”
Supporters note that 38 states would still have to ratify anything the delegates come up with. SJR 5 specifies that Ohio’s delegates would only be allowed to vote on a balanced-budget amendment.
While waiting for other states to pass their own resolutions, several Ohio lawmakers have joined the national effort to organize and prepare for an Article V convention.
State Rep. Matt Huffman said he, Faber, and two other Ohio GOP House members will head to Virginia on Dec. 7 for the “Mount Vernon Assembly,” a group of 100 or so state lawmakers who will start to informally work out the details of how a convention would operate.
The four Ohio lawmakers will pay for the trip themselves, said Huffman, a Lima Republican and one of the leaders of the assembly.
The group, he said, is planning to encourage Ohio and other states to pass resolutions to establish an organizational convention in 2015 that would establish rules and procedures for future conventions.
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