A Constitutional Credit Limit

As the clock ticks away on the national debt limit, some folks on the left are suggesting that we take advice from Buzz Lightyear and raise the debt limit "to infinity and beyond." They may have a point. If every time the government reaches the maximum on its national credit card, and Congress simply raises it, what good is a debt limit?

In the real world of household finance, American consumers have to ask the credit card company for permission to raise their debt limit. Sometimes the answer comes back a resounding "No!" So when this happens, the consumer has to alter his or her spending habits and work within the reality of available funds. Unfortunately, this is not how Congress operates. History has shown that whenever the federal debt limit is reached, Congress just votes a higher limit without doing anything about its spending habits. The current debate over the debt limit will result in the same outcome. There is a solution to this perpetual spending and borrowing behavior, but it won't come from Washington.

As the New Year approaches, state legislatures all over the country are filing bills to be considered in the upcoming session. Among the normal bills concerning how to spend and how to cut at the state level, many states will also be debating a bill to amend the constitution with eighteen words.

"An increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the several States."

If this were an amendment to the Constitution, then the States would be the credit bureau looking at the balance sheet with the ability to approve or disapprove a higher debt limit. The bill in question is the National Debt Relief Amendment. This bill calls for an Article V Convention. Article V of the U.S. Constitution is written so that the Constitution can be amended as needed. The Founding Fathers knew that the Constitution hammered out in Philadelphia, more that two hundred years ago, was not a perfect document. They acknowledged imperfection is in the first sentence "...in Order to form a more perfect Union...." So the Founding Fathers deliberately wrote Article V with exacting language; language that would be specific with regard to amendments only.

Our Constitution has been amended only twenty-seven times even though thousands of attempts have been made. The ratification process is such a monumental hurdle to overcome, only twenty-seven amendments have made it to the finish line. In each of these cases, Congress, by a two-thirds majority in both houses, has initiated the amendment process, but there is another way.

Article V of the Constitution provides for a way to circumvent Congress but it has never been tried. If, upon the application of two-thirds of the states (i.e. thirty-four states), there is a call for an Article V Convention (AVC), then the Constitution mandates very specifically that Congress must do the following:

"...shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which in either case, shall be valid....'

Notice the language here "... for proposing Amendments...." It does not say for rewriting the Constitution, as fearmongers on the left would have us believe. The leftists have successfully struck fear in the hearts of many concerning an AVC, claiming that it would result in a runaway Constitutional Convention (Con Con). But this simply cannot happen, since any AVC must comply with the 1973 Constitutional Convention Act (CCA) which, by law, limits the convention to the specific topics under which the application for the AVC was made.

The 1973 CCA also requires that each of the calls be identical in wording with no variations. To assist with this, the American Legislative Exchange Council has adopted model legislation so that the calls for the AVC, to adopt the National Debt Relief Amendment, will be valid.

The ramifications of altering the Constitution with the eighteen words above are profound. The balance of power between the Federal Government and the States would be restored, because, unlike other balanced budget amendments, this amendment has teeth. If Congress were to raise the debt limit without the consent of twenty-six states, and the Treasury Department were to issue bonds for sale, any one of the states that did not give consent would have legal standing to impound those funds, making them inaccessible to Congress. In other word the credit card reader would say "Declined." Then, like the American consumer, Congress would have to alter its spending habits and operate on available funds.