A Compact for America?

January 30, 2013 | By TIMOTHY SANDEFUR

Compact for America is an organization seeking to generate support for a balanced budget amendment in an interesting way: establishing an agreement among the states to convene a limited constitutional convention for the purpose of adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The Constitution allows states to hold amendment conventions, although only one amendment has ever been done that way—the Prohibition Amendment.* People are understandably shy of the convention idea because they’re worried about “runaway conventions”: i.e., a convention that comes up with various crazy ideas. The Compact would restrict what the conventions can do so as to prevent this possibility. And the result would be a constitutional rule that requires a majority of the states to approve spending in excess of the federal debt limit, and requires a 2/3 vote in Congress to approve general tax increases (with some important exceptions). States, of course, suffer a lot from excess federal debt. For one thing, when the federal government imposes taxes to pay off debt, that’s less money for the states to tax. Then when people complaint that states aren’t offering the kinds of services that they want, the consequence is to ratchet up demand for more federal government services—which, in turn, increases the federal tax burden, all in a spiral effect that would horrify the founding fathers. You can learn more about the idea here.

*-Update: I’ve been reminded that although the Prohibition Amendment was ratified in state conventions, it actually originated with Congress, not with the states.