RALEIGH – A state House committee approved a bill under which North Carolina would join Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi and North Dakota in an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to control the national debt. Rep. Chris Millis (R-Hampstead) is pushing House Bill 366, where 38 states would call for a Constitutional convention to put forward a balanced budget amendment. The bill is scheduled to go to the House Appropriations Committee next.
Under Article V of the Constitution, Congress must authorize a convention to consider amending the document if 34 states call for one. But since a total of 38 states would be needed to ratify any amendment to the Constitution, the compact triggers the process at 38 in an attempt to ensure ratification.
Although they are usually together on issues, Millis stood in opposition today to Rep. Michael Speciale (R-New Bern), who worried that a convention could be hijacked and used to redefine the federal government in monstrous ways. Reps. Darren Jackson (R-Wake) and John Szoka (R-Cumberland) also expressed concern about a runaway convention.
“The bottom line is you cannot control this [convention]. It is a federal function,” Speciale said. Speciale said he is wholeheartedly in favor of reining in federal spending, but this was the wrong way to go about it. “This is a scary prospect. There may be a time when this is necessary, but this isn’t it.”
Millis and two representatives of Compact for America tried to allay concerns of a runaway convention, saying that the compact was narrowly written and has adequate safeguards that ensure that the only item a convention could consider would be the balanced budget amendment. And they pointed out that any amendments proposed by a constitutional convention would still need to be ratified by 38 states.
Although the convention method of amendment has never been successful, it has been close a few times. Only one more state was needed when the U.S. Senate finally relented and passed the resolution that became the amendment to directly elect Senators. Several more have been one or two states shy but have come to nothing.
Millis says that a compact will be binding on the state unless a future General Assembly votes to remove North Carolina from it. According to the National Center for Interstate Compacts, North Carolina is already a party to 23 interstate compacts dealing with issues as varied as pest control, National Guard mutual support, and vehicle safety equipment.
The amendment envisioned by the compact would not be a true balanced budget amendment, but would cap the statutory debt limit at 105 percent of the debt limit in force at the time of adoption, an approach that Millis calls “grounded in reality.” States would have to approve any increase in the limit. Tax and debt hawk Grover Norquist, author George Will, and constitutional scholar Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute are in favor of the compact, according to Compact for America representatives present at the meeting.
Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Asheboro) said that his constituents tell him that the amount of federal debt is frightening. “Ultimately,” McNeill said, “we have to do something. I believe this deserves further debate.”