In Wisconsin, Radical Proposal to Amend U.S. Constitution is Introduced
Wisconsin lawmakers have introduced a resolution calling for a Constitutional convention, a course of action that could ultimately jeopardize basic principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution if enough states pass similar resolutions.
The resolution (SJR 18, introduced in the Wisconsin State Senate on March 16, 2017) asks Congress to assemble a convention to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution related to federal spending. The resolution is co-sponsored by 12 Senators, out of 33 total State Senators, and 40 Representatives, out of 99 total.
With Wisconsin’s resolution now introduced in the legislature, the once-seemingly implausible idea of a Constitutional Convention has moved a little closer. The U.S. Constitution specifies that a convention to amend the Constitution may be called by Congress if two-thirds of the states pass resolutions calling for one. Proponents of a convention say that 28 states of the 34 needed have passed resolutions – although the process for determining what states should be included in that total is not clear, and Congress is the final arbiter as to whether the threshold has been reached. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is among the groups leading a push for a convention.
Wisconsin’s resolution calls for the Constitutional convention to propose an amendment requiring a balanced budget at the federal level, a move that would likely make recessions longer and deeper, and could harm social security and military and civil service retirement funds. Federal lawmakers would be forced to cut spending, raise taxes, or both when the economy is weakest and in need of bolstering through additional public investment. (For more on the economic damage this approach could inflict, read Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment Poses Serious Risks, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Jan 18, 2017.)
Another problem with a potential convention is that it may open up the Constitution to radical and harmful changes. “A convention likely would be extremely contentious and highly politicized, and its results impossible to predict,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. There has only been one similar convention in U.S. history, in 1787 – and delegates to that convention went far beyond their original mandate and made major changes to the nation’s government document. A modern-day convention also has the potential to make extensive changes to the Constitution, including rewriting the process for states to ratify amendments. (For more on the dangers of a runaway convention, read States Could Likely Not Control Constitutional Convention on Balanced Budget Amendment or Other Issues, CBPP, Jan 18, 2017.)
Outside of Wisconsin, there have been two recent developments in this area:
- Wyoming lawmakers passed a resolution calling for a convention; and
- New Mexico lawmakers rescinded resolutions dating from decades ago that called for a balanced budget amendment. Legislators in Nevada and Maryland are also considering rescinding previously-passed resolutions.
Wisconsin state lawmakers should stay away from passing a resolution that calls for a convention that would open the door to sweeping changes to the U.S. Constitution and would bring about changes likely to harm the economy.