There has been a dramatic decrease in the willingness of the average party official and office holder to recognize that there is some common ground that we ought to try to define and pursue, and to stay away from the extremes that both the right and the left contend are the only solutions we have for the problems that face our nation. There have been time and time again efforts to define a balanced budget amendment that could pass the two-thirds vote of Congress...and it has never happened. In my judgment, the reason these efforts have failed is because the interests of the individual members of the U.S Senate and the House of Representatives are simply so entangled in the question that we can’t expect them to decide on something that will mean that their power, their influence, and their control has to be limited.
The use of an interstate compact agreement has the advantage that it gets the decision-making away from the tangle of political intrigue and everything else that is the present situation in the U.S. Congress. It shifts the decision-making to the state legislatures – a totally separate group of people who hopefully could look at the situation and recognize that there are common aspects that would be beneficial to the country as a whole that we ought to be able to agree on as the text of the balanced budget amendment.
If we don’t make some fundamental structural changes in the system under which the U.S. government and the states function, we are destined to get swallowed up and drowned in the inability to pay for what we have said we want to do. It is sad that most of the promises that we have made are promises that have good reasons for them. But what we cannot do is to promise to pay for something if we don’t have any money and where having to pay for it really doesn’t mean very much. This is where we have gotten lost, in my judgment, where every time members of Congress want to talk about spending, they focus on earmarks and special events that will help them get reelected in their home district, rather than focusing on resolving the nation’s annual deficit and outstanding debt obligations.
The concept that our framers decided upon in the beginning was a republic in which the national government would have specific and limited powers and the state governments would continue to do all of the responsibilities of government that they were then doing at that time. Certainly, in 240 years, many of the aspects of our lives have changed dramatically. The federal government has, for good or for bad, assumed a whole set of powers that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution under the powers of the Congress or the Article I Powers. So we have accommodated in some ways the change in the lifestyle that we all live under through this silent amendment of the Constitution. But the ultimate power to amend the Constitution is unquestionably in the people. It is not in the federal government, not in the Supreme Court, not in the U.S. Congress, and not in the President.
Article V of the Constitution defines the process for amending the Constitution. The primary method for amending the Constitution is the decision by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the U.S. House as to the text of a proposed amendment. When that two-thirds vote is adopted, then the proposed amendment is submitted to the states for ratification.
There is an alternative method for proposing amendments which involves the application by two-thirds of the states for a convention to consider and possibly propose an amendment or amendments to the Constitution. There have been some preliminary efforts at putting such a convention together, but it has never actually developed. All amendments to our Constitution that have been ratified to date have resulted from the two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House as the initiating method.
Now, the problem we have today in Washington is, in my judgment, that it would be impossible for either side to develop a two-thirds vote in both the Sena