Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, wealthy special interest groups convinced dozens of state legislatures to pass resolutions or “calls” for an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment (BBA). At one point, BBA advocates were just a few states short of reaching the constitutionally required 34 state required to call a convention. However, due to concerns about a potential runaway convention, plus an intensified drive to push BBA through Congress, over a dozen states rescinded their convention calls between 1989 and 2010.
This pro-convention campaign is the one that has progressed the furthest and it works to add a federal balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
In recent years conservative interest groups have revived the convention plan and have persuaded more than a dozen state legislatures to pass Article V convention calls since 2011. As of today, BBA convention proponents claim that 28 states have “active” or “live” applications on the books for an Article V convention on a balanced budget – just six states away from the 34 needed to call a convention.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate lobbying group hiding under the guise of a charity, has endorsed the Article V BBA campaign and given it a boost. ALEC, which has close connections with and is funded by the Koch network, has become one of the most effective lobbying tools of the conservative convention proponents.
The campaign for an Article V convention on a balanced budget amendment is primarily being organized by the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force (BBATF) and its affiliate, the Center for State-Led National Debt Solutions (CSNDS). In 2019, former Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) became the national honorary chair of CSNDS. The Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force was previously led by Scott Rogers, who later publicly reversed his position and admitted the real threats of a convention. The BBA Task Force’s campaign for a convention “became less about reforming our nation’s government, but a vehicle to limit and destroy the power of the federal government,” Rogers said.
The proponents for a BBA convention claim a convention can be limited to just one issue – the balanced budget amendment. Unfortunately, though, the Constitution provides no guidelines for a convention would work and what rules, if any, would be in place.
A federal balanced budget amendment itself isn’t all that great of an idea either. It’s imperative to remember that the Constitution is a governing document, it wasn’t created to guide fiscal decisions. Economists have found that a balanced budget amendment, if even enforceable, would sabotage the economy and hurt working families and the middle class by forcing cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and other essential programs everyday Americans rely on. The BBA would also limit our nation’s ability to respond to national emergencies or disasters. A federal balanced budget amendment would not allow for flexibility to respond appropriately to sudden changes in the economy, natural disasters, or national security threats.
While proponents will argue this is akin to American families balancing their checkbooks, the analogy provides a false narrative and is misleading. As well as building reserve funds, state governments often borrow money to finance building roads, schools, and other public projects. Most American families borrow money for mortgages, student loans, and other investments. Under a constitutional balanced budget amendment, the federal government would not be able to borrow to finance a response to a national security threat or boost economic growth.
Ultimately, the push for a constitutional convention on a balanced budget isn’t just about fiscal policy – it’s about putting all of our constitutional rights up for grabs. And now, the proponents for a balanced budget amendment convention are exploring new ways to rig the application count in order to force Congress to call a convention.
Rob Natelson, a conservative legal scholar that has advised the Article V convention movement, recently wrote an article claiming that the “true count” to the constitutionally-required 34 states to call a convention is already 33 by adding the BBA applications and other older general convention applications. Natelson’s “fuzzy math” is alarming as conservative special interests try to change the rules – or just make up new ones – on how to call a convention.
In addition, groups such as the Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and the Job Creators Network, among others, have written letters to both Vice President Pence and Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asking them to advance a constitutional convention. These groups believe that, according to Natelson’s math, calls for a convention have reached the necessary amount of states needed to proceed. This is an urgent matter – as many people are contacting some of the highest office holders in the nation to make a convention happen.
In order to stop this convention, the Defend Our Constitution coalition and other groups have pushed states to rescind Article V convention BBA applications. In the last few years, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada, and Maryland have all successfully passed resolutions. These rescissions have been crucial in the effort to stop a convention from being called and protecting every Americans’ constitutional rights and civil liberties.