Debate Over Balanced Budget Amendment Begins in OK

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The Oklahoma Legislature will be voting on two pieces of legislation that, if approved, could lead to a Balanced Budget Amendment. Oklahoma State Representative Gary Banz has proposed HJR 1060, a Balanced Budget Convention Application. Tweet the news:

The second piece of legislation is targeted to maintain a stricter focus during the convention that ensues in the Amendment process. Currently, the votes have been postponed by Oklahoma’s House States Rights Committee.

Per the rules of proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution, found in Article V, an amendment can either be proposed by Congress or the states. In the event that Congress begins the process, two-thirds of both chambers are required for it to pass onto the states for ratification Two-thirds (34) of state legislatures must then approve ratification of the new amendment.

If the process begins with the states, three-fourths (38) could call a convention, which has only been done with 21st Amendment banning prohibition. The latter method is how Rep. Banz is proposing to go.

Representative Banz will be asking Oklahoma state legislators to approve HB 1530, the Delegate Limitation Act (a.k.a. “No Runaway Convention Act”). The term “runaway” refers to the fear that once this happens, any of the state-appointed delegates could propose further amendments that possibly could be different from the balanced budget.

Banz’ HB 1530 provides a strict adherence to maintaining the convention’s focus:

“The states are authorized but have never proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution out of fear that an Article V ‘Convention to propose amendments’ could ‘runaway’ and make unwanted Constitutional changes. My bill, HB 1530, ends that ‘fear’ by recalling, replacing, nullifying the vote of and providing criminal charges for any delegate who violates their oath and tries to instigate a ‘runaway’ Convention.”

There is a rich history in proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) and the fear of a runaway convention was not the only detracting argument preventing its passage. The main reason the amendment proposal is gaining traction once more is due to the rising national debt and regular annual budget deficits.

The national debt is $16.4 trillion. The annual deficit for 2012 alone was $1.1 trillion. That adds up to an increasingly more difficult problem to solve. A balanced budget amendment would essentially make budget deficits unconstitutional. As logic follows, once the deficits cease to add to the national debt, the U.S. government could focus on ways to spend more wisely. Tweet it:

Oklahoma is not the only state that is attempting to make balancing the budget the focus of a 28th amendment to the constitution. South Dakota legislators are also attempting a similar pathway to an amendment convention.

South Dakota State Representative Manny Steele is taking a triple-bill approach. The first state bill, targeting the runaway convention concern, was voted down 40-28. Just like HB 1530, it was meant to narrow the focus for the state-appointed delegates to the convention.

Rep. Steele made the distinction between Congress’ lack of action and that state’s need for action:

“We are the states. We are the people. This is our Constitution. I want it to go forth as our state’s rights against a runaway Congress. I’m not concerned about a runaway convention, when we have a runaway Congress, on one issue.” Tweet quote:

The idea for a balanced budget amendment is a polarizing topic with supporters in both the Democratic and Republican parties. It has, however, generally been associated with conservative principals, especially as part of the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” approach. In the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union, Senator Marco Rubio recommended the amendment:

“The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That’s why we need a balanced budget amendment.” Tweet at @MarcoRubio:

Opponents to this amendment have compared it to putting a straightjacket on Congress and the president when negotiating budgets every year. Obama argued that in times of war and economic distress, the amendment would be too austere. South Dakota legislators targeted these exceptions by allowing increased spending in times of need.

South Dakota, along with Oklahoma and 36 other states, still require passage at the state level for the constitution to be amended. It was brought up when the federal debt was roughly half of what it is today.

Now the problem is larger and more legislators are making a concerted effort for incorporating a balanced budget into the constitution. The issue may have been voted down and postponed, but the balanced budget amendment will remain a contentious issue.