August 2016 Brief: Volume 23, Number 23
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Restoring Constitutionalism, Federalism, and Solving our National Fiscal Crisis: The Possibility of an Article V Convention of the States
by John Hendrickson
The United States is confronted with a serious economic and fiscal crisis that is threatening both our economy and our national security. This fiscal crisis is a result of decades of out-of-control spending by the federal government, and both Republicans and Democrats can share in the blame. The federal budget is $4 trillion, and the national debt is approaching $20 trillion. This does not even include the trillions of dollars in future obligations from entitlement programs. In order to address this problem, several conservative and libertarian political leaders and scholars are calling for the states to organize an Article V convention of the states for the purpose of restoring federalism and getting federal spending under control.
Article V of the United States Constitution deals with the process of amending the Constitution. One option for amending the Constitution is for two-thirds of the states to petition Congress to offer amendments in a convention of the states. This is referred to as an Article V convention, which has yet to occur. Supporters of an Article V convention argue that this is the only solution that would allow the states to restore both federalism and fiscal responsibility. As Alexander Hamilton stated, “We may safely rely on the disposition of the state legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.” This is the goal of an Article V convention.
Americans are deeply divided over how to solve our economic problems. Although it is expected that Americans would be divided over political issues, perhaps the most disturbing trend in our political culture is our growing civic ignorance about the Constitution, the American government, and history. The Founders understood that in order for the Constitution to survive, a civic-minded and virtuous people would be needed to uphold its truths and principles. As Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote:
In addition, Governor Abbott notes the disturbing truth that “most Americans have no idea what our Constitution says.” This also applies to elected officials, many of whom are ignorant or just ignore the Constitution:
Because of this constitutional drift, advocates of the Article V convention of the states believe that it is the best option for solving the economic and constitutional problems confronting the nation. Governor Greg Abbott is leading the effort for an Article V convention with the Texas Plan, which offers a series of amendments to restore constitutional government.
The debate surrounding an Article V convention of the states is a worthy discussion, and it is worth the time for the Iowa Legislature to debate and consider this important issue. With that said, any move toward an Article V convention of the states should be made with caution and prudence. Our country is at a fundamental crossroads from both an economic and a cultural standpoint. We are deeply divided, and a constitutional convention, even if it had a specific agenda, would draw the attention of numerous advocacy groups from across the political spectrum. For example, liberals and progressives also have their own economic and social goals to achieve through a constitutional convention.
It is clear that we must start addressing the economic and constitutional problems facing this nation. Perhaps the greatest battle will be to restore the values and principles of the American Founding that our nation has forgotten.
The arguments for and against an Article V convention of the states are brought forth in detail in Public Interest Institute’s POLICY STUDY, “Restoring Constitutionalism, Federalism, and Solving our National Fiscal Crisis: The Possibility of an Article V Convention of the States.”
 Alexander Hamilton, quoted by George F. Will in, “Amend the Constitution to Control Federal Spending,” The Washington Post, April 9, 2014, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/george-will-amend-the-constitution-to-control-federal-spending/2014/04/09/00fa7df6-bf3c-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html> accessed on July 27, 2016.
John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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