Wisconsin Lawmakers Set to Consider Radical Proposal to Amend U.S. Constitution
State lawmakers in Wisconsin are seeking to pass a resolution that calls for a convention to make drastic changes to the U.S. Constitution. If enough states join this effort, delegates to such a convention could have wide-ranging authority to make amendments to the constitution with very little in the way of external controls on what they are enabled to do.
The idea of a Constitutional Convention sounds far-fetched. After all, the last time there was a similar convention was in 1787, when delegates who were charged with amending the Articles of Confederation instead wrote an entirely new government document. But groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are pushing for a convention, and in the past few years several states have adopted resolutions calling for one. Resolutions in 34 states are needed for a convention to be called, and so far 29 states have passed some version of a resolution.
There are two major problems with calling a Constitutional Convention. First, there would be almost no limit on the ability of the convention to make wholesale changes to the U.S. Constitution. The convention could write its own rules. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities put it:
“The Constitution provides no guidance whatsoever on the ground rules for a convention. This leaves wide open to political considerations and pressures such fundamental questions as how the delegates would be chosen, how many delegates each state would have, and whether a supermajority vote would be required to approve amendments. To illustrate the importance of these issues, consider that if every state had one vote in the convention and the convention would approve amendments with a simple majority vote, the 26 least populous states – which contain less than 18% of the nation’s people – could approve an amendment for ratification.”
The convention could also choose a new ratification process for changes made to the Constitution. Right now, the approval of 38 states is needed to enact any amendments to the Constitution. But the convention could completely re-write the approval process; for example, a convention might take the states out of the approval process entirely and instead require a national referendum.
The second major problem with calling a Constitutional Convention is that proponents want to use it to pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Even if there were a way to limit the changes that a Constitutional Convention can make – which there isn’t – this amendment alone would do substantial damage. According to CBPP:
“By requiring a balanced budget every year, no matter the state of the economy, such an amendment would raise serious risk of tipping weak economies into recession and making recessions longer and deeper, causing very large job losses. That’s because the amendment would force policymakers to cut spending, raise taxes, or both just when the economy is weak or already in recession – the exact opposite of what good economic policy would advise.”
In a false analogy, proponents of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution often argue that families have to balance their budgets and the federal government should do the same. But in fact, families often borrow to make worthwhile investments – taking out a mortgage to buy a home, for example, or getting a loan to pay for a child’s college education. In contrast, the balanced budget amendment would prohibit the federal government from borrowing to make investments even if they have substantial future pay-offs.
The seemingly implausible idea of a Constitutional Convention is moving closer, with nine states approving resolutions in recent years. Right now, Wisconsin State Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) is circulating a draft of a resolution calling for a convention, looking for additional co-sponsors. He has already lined up a third of the members of the legislature to co-sponsor the resolution – and Governor Walker has said that he supports a Constitutional Convention as well.
Wisconsin state lawmakers should stay away from calling 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.
For more information about the risks of a Constitutional Convention:
- States Likely Could Not Control Constitutional Convention on Balanced Budget Amendment or Other Issues, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
- Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment Poses Serious Risks: Would Like Make Recessions Longer and Deeper, Could Harm Social Security and Other Trust Funds, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.