MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Republicans took the first steps Tuesday toward calling for a convention of states to craft a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passing a resolution calling for the convention out of committee.
The Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee approved the resolution 6-2. The panel also approved a bill by the same vote that would establish a five-person delegation to attend such a convention. The votes send both measures on to the full Assembly.
“Our founding fathers repeatedly warned against debt because they realized it was a key driver to the decline of every major civilization,” the measures’ chief author, Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said in a letter to the committee. “This again confirms that the actions at the federal level are putting at risk the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that (Thomas) Jefferson spoke of in the Declaration of Independence. … We must require the federal government to operate under a balanced budget.”
The U.S. Constitution provides two mechanisms for amendments. Congress can propose one if at least two-thirds of each chamber supports it. Congress also must grant a request from at least two-thirds of the state legislatures – currently 34 of them – to hold a convention to propose an amendment. Ratification of any amendment would require the approval of at least three-quarters of all state legislatures, or 38 of them.
The group Citizens for Self-Governance, led by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, has launched a national push for a convention of states to develop a balanced budget amendment. The group contends that such an amendment will never emerge from Congress.
“The Founders knew the federal government might one day become drunk with the abuses of power,” the group’s website says. “By calling a convention of the states, we can stop the federal spending and debt spree, the power grabs of the federal courts, and other misuses of federal power. The current situation is precisely what the Founders feared, and they gave us a solution we have a duty to use.”
No official count of state calls for a convention exists because Congress hasn’t established a process for such calls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kapenga’s letter, however, said about 20 states have passed a convention resolution.
Twenty-six states currently have Republican-led legislatures. That doesn’t include Nebraska’s Legislature, which is officially nonpartisan but leans conservative. Even if all those legislatures were to request a convention, the GOP would still be seven states short of the 34 needed to force it.
The campaigns committee passed the proposals without any discussion. Rep. Terese Berceau of Madison, one of the two Democrats on the committee, told reporters after votes that she chose not to speak out because she wasn’t going to change any Republican minds.
But she called the moves frustrating. She said government budgeting is a complex process. Requiring a balanced budget sounds good, she said, but she questioned what that would really mean and how the federal government would be able to pay for unforeseen events such as wars and natural disasters. She called the push for a convention a campaign ploy.
“The reality is there will always be a difference of opinion on what a balanced budget is. I’m thinking this is a campaign initiative so they can go to low-informed voters and say we support a balanced budget without addressing all the nuances,” she said. “It’s politicking for the simple-minded.”
Both the Assembly and Senate must pass the resolution before it can take effect. Both houses would have to pass the delegation bill and Republican Gov. Scott Walker would have to sign it before it could become law.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, supports the measures, but they must pass the Senate, too. Thirteen of 18 Senate Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution and but only two are co-sponsoring the delegation bill. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, hasn’t signed on to either proposal and his spokesman didn’t return a message. A Walker spokesman also didn’t immediately return messages.