America Is One State Away From Constitutional Reform

By Adm. Bill Owens – December 03, 2021

When I first joined the Navy, I was a kid from North Dakota who had never seen an ocean. After Annapolis, I served on nuclear submarines around the world, where I spent several years underwater. Eventually, I rose through the ranks and served many years in the Pentagon, where I became the second most senior military officer in the United States.

In that role, I spent a lot of time at the U.S. Capitol working on defense strategy, appropriations and procurement. I came to know the Congress in profound ways, participating in many of the legislative and committee processes. I personally engaged the House speaker, the White House and the House Budget Committee chair to facilitate President Clinton and Defense Secretary Bill Perry’s defense budget reduction during the 1990s. We balanced the budget by making tough cuts to social services and defense programs, including retiring much of my own nuclear fleet at the end of the Cold War.

My passion for reform has always been rooted in my genuine concern for national security. Several senior officers in their retirement years have said that the greatest threat to national security is our national debt. Today, yearly interest on our debt is the fastest growing part of the budget and dwarfs the defense budget of most other countries.

From my perspective, the debt cycle is driven by the following: Defense companies push for more and bigger contracts; members of Congress want programs planted in their districts for the jobs they create; and the admirals’ and generals’ push for their service programs to get bigger budgets and more personnel. This is a positive feedback loop with no end in sight, and it creates a cascade of financial spending that does not serve our national interests.

Fiscal responsibility in Washington is a matter of national security. The standard of living for our citizens and the stability of the dollar are at stake. In my many years at the Pentagon, I watched legislation to address this problem come and go, but nothing ever fixed it once and for all. I have become convinced that the only way to accomplish that goal is outside of the halls of Congress and with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

And the only way to propose an amendment outside of Congress is through the state legislatures. 

Thankfully, the Founders saw this situation coming from a few centuries ahead of the rest of us. They included a way to fix Congress with a constitutional amendment via the states. The good news is that, after 40 years, America is only one state away from the two-thirds requirement to have state legislatures gather and propose such a solution at a national amendments convention. It’s no longer hypothetical — it’s very close to happening.

For too long, Congress has controlled the direction of our country through the power of the purse and its ability to spend unlimited amounts of money with zero accountability. The role of the states to provide oversight on Congress is long overdue. The states are the natural balance to the authority of Congress, and the founders designed the Constitution to provide the states a method to affect the overall governance of our country. It’s included in Article V.

A national amendments convention is what a constitutionally based “revolution” looks like in America. It requires zero “guns and butter,” but it does require power-sharing between the federal government and the states. The balance of power is not simply among the three branches of the federal government. By design, it is also a shared obligation between states and our federal government.

Wherever that convention is held, I will be present with my two grandchildren. They are old enough to know all about lobbyists, the Congress, and “the system.” But I want them to see another side of American democracy. The convention could be a community of Americans who set aside their differences to create a more perfect union together. 

I look forward to seeing the solutions we “crowd-source” from the citizens of our country. I am curious to read the language that this current generation of Americans deems worthy of inclusion into our foundational documents. After all, the U.S. Constitution is, always has been, and always will be the rightful property of the American people. Every generation of Americans has amended the Constitution, except ours, so I’ll see you at the convention!

Retired Adm. Bill Owens is a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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