VOL. 132 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Tennessee Acts on Balanced Budget Convention to Curb ‘Crippling’ National Debt
Sam Stockard, Nashville Correspondent
Saying they can avoid a “runaway” convention for “crazy or radical ideas,” Republican state legislators are filing legislation calling for a convention of states in Nashville to adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“This is a huge move forward toward finally addressing the national debt,” Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown said in a Wednesday, Jan. 11, press conference. “Congress is made up of both Democrats and Republicans who have racked up $20 trillion worth of debt.”
Kelsey says the debt is “crippling grandchildren” who will have to pay off the debt and affecting national security because the United States owes the money to foreign governments.
“This is a huge issue, and congressmen of both parties have failed to act. It’s time for states to step up and solve this problem of a $20 trillion national debt.”
Lawmakers contend Congress isn’t addressing the matter even though Republican President-elect Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton called the national debt a major issue during the 2016 campaign.
With that in mind, Kelsey and state Rep. Dennis Powers, a Jacksboro Republican, want to set up a planning convention in Nashville for July 11 to set the rules for an Article V Convention to amend the Constitution and recommend to Congress a date and location for state delegates to meet.
Legislatures would choose seven delegates and seven alternates to attend a convention, and each state would have one vote.
“This is historic,” Kelsey said, noting more than 30 conventions of states were held early in the nation’s history.
Congress has amended the U.S. Constitution 28 times, but no convention of states has been held since 1861 when an effort was made to avert the Civil War, Kelsey said.
Twenty-eight of the 34 states needed to hold a convention of states have passed resolutions calling for a balanced budget amendment, and Kelsey said Tennessee legislators are targeting nine more states to take action this year.
The planning convention would address the possibility of a “runaway convention,” a situation in which some people fear states would push for amendments outside the scope of a balanced budget measure. The planning convention, which would be presided over by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, would set the issue to be discussed at the national convention.
Tennessee passed a measure two years ago that would punish anyone trying to go outside the convention’s scope with up to a felony offense.
Kelsey predicted any “crazy or radical ideas” proposed would not be adopted because the threshold for passage is too high. A two-thirds vote is needed to call a convention and a three-fourths vote of the states, 38, is required to send the measure to Congress.
“We’re here because Congress has refused to act,” said Sen. Mike Bell, a Riceville Republican from East Tennessee.
Founding Fathers James Madison and George Mason “insisted” that states have a method for amending the Constitution because sometime in the future the federal government would grow to the point it would become “deaf” to states’ needs, Bell said.
The National Federation of Independent Business is behind the movement on a state and national level.
“It’s been on our members’ radar for a long time,” said Jim Brown, director of NFIB in Tennessee. “We polled this years ago, and it was 90 percent of our members.”
The group’s members are comfortable with the way the process is being “structured” to ensure a convention of states wouldn’t turn into a “runaway” event, Brown said.
Sen. John Stevens, a Huntingdon Republican from West Tennessee, called the matter a “critical moral issue” because of the impact a growing national debt could have on today’s young people as well as national security.
It also affects people in the nation’s safety net, Stevens said, because the amount of money spent on services will dwindle and more funding has to be poured into debt service.
The national debt has been accrued over many years, so the deficit must be addressed each year, with Congress eliminating about $1 trillion in deficit spending that piles on to the national debt, the legislators said.
Once the national budget is balanced, leaders can focus on whittling down the national debt by paying that debt, they said.
“History has shown it’s possible,” Stevens said, when asked how Congress could cut spending when such a small percentage of the budget is discretionary.
Stevens contended Congress can balance the budget, as was done in the 1920s under President Calvin Coolidge, in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan and in 1994 under the Congress led by Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich and signed by President Bill Clinton.
The Tennessee Senate was the first body in the United States to pass a resolution calling for a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution unanimously, Kesley said.
“Tennessee’s own Andrew Jackson was the last president who actually paid off the entire debt of the United States. It has been done by a Tennessean before, and that’s why we want Tennessee to be leaders of this effort once again,” Kelsey said.
Sam Stockard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.