The State Senate of Tennessee has laid the legislative groundwork for something that hasn't been done in the United States of America since the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. With a vote of 27-3, the Tennessee Senate has voted to call a "convention of the states" in order to draft and pass an amendment to the Constitution that would require balanced budgets to be passed every year.
For those who are little fuzzy on their high school U.S. history knowledge, the Tennessean explains that the U.S. Constitution can be amended in two ways. The first would require a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of Congress, an unlikely outcome in today's hyper-partisan political arena. The second, on the other hand, requires that two-thirds of the states (34 in total) pass a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention.
There are two ways to propose amendments to the Constitution. The first and more traditional method is through a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Then the amendment is sent to the state legislatures, where it needs ratification by three-fourths or 38 states in order to become law. Nearly all 27 amendments have followed this path.
But the Constitution also provides a second, more populist path to amending the document. If two-thirds or 34 states pass a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention, delegates from all 50 states will meet to draft an amendment. This is what the Tennessee lawmakers are calling for in their resolution.
Of course, calls for a convention to pass a balanced budget amendment started in the 1970s and have failed each time. That said, with Republicans now controlling 32 state legislatures, this latest effort initiated by Tennessee seems to have the best chance of succeeding so far.
And while there have been close calls for Constitutional Conventions before, each time Congress has acted preemptively to stave off the need for a convention. In 1911, for example, 28 states of the required 32 passed a resolution calling for direct election of Senators before Congress intervened and drafted the Seventeenth Amendment instead.
But, as the Tennessean notes, the problem with amending the Constitution through a convention is that once the convention is convened anything can happen. For example, the last time the states gathered for a convention in 1787 they ended up tossing out the Articles of Confederation and forming an entirely new government based on the current Constitution.
The last time the states gathered to amend a governing document on the scale the resolution calls for, the delegates threw out America’s first basis of government and replaced it with the Constitutional system used today.
“They were supposed to meet to make amendments to the Articles of Confederation but ended up with a whole new form of government," said Nathan Griffith, an associate professor of political science at Belmont University. "Not just a new constitution, but a whole new form of government."
If enough states pass a similar resolution, then a planning convention could meet as early as this upcoming July, and by November the first Article V Convention in history could be called by Congress.
Meanwhile, as we noted earlier today, President Trump offered his own warning on America's national debt this morning saying that "[spending] was out of control," as officials gathered to discuss the budget, adding that there is "enormous work to do on the national debt."
There is a "moral duty" to taxpayers, President Trump says at White House budget lunch, "we must do a lot more with less."
"Our budget is absolutely out of control" he added, and in the future "will reflect our priorities."
The hiring freeze for non-essential workers will remain.
"We have enormous work to do on the national debt"
There will be "no more wasted money, we will spend in a careful way."
Of course, we're not really sure what all the fuss is about...only $10 trillion has been added to the national debt over the past 8 years, which, when you think about it, is a very manageable $31,000 per man, woman and child.
And balancing the budget 5 years out of 50 is pretty good, right?