Americans need a fiscal responsibility amendment to the Constitution
By Dr. Barry Poulson and Hon. David M. Walker – September 17, 2022
Half a century ago, Milton Friedman argued that American citizens should be free to choose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
In 1982, he helped craft Joint Resolution 58, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring for each year’s federal budget that “total outlays are no greater than total receipts” without a three-fifths majority vote of both houses.
Congress failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to propose Joint Resolution 58, and over the years Congress failed to approve similar fiscal responsibility measures. However, a breakthrough in this logjam was achieved in July when Rep. Jodey Arrington, Texas Republican, and his cosponsors introduced two important bills.
HCR 101 would require Congress to call an Article V Convention of States for Proposing Amendments to consider a fiscal responsibility amendment unless the nation’s archivist determines that the required number of state applications has never been met. HR 8419 directs the Archivist of the United States to authenticate, publish and count all applications for a Convention for Proposing Amendments on any subject, and to certify and notify Congress when the requisite number of states has been achieved. Congress has already given this responsibility to the archivist for ratification of proposed amendments.
HCR 101 notes that in 1979 the Congressional Record documents the receipt of Nevada’s Fiscal Responsibility Article V Convention application. At that point, the states met the constitutional requirement of application from two-thirds (34) of the states. By the end of 1979, there were 39 active applications and 40 by the end of 1983. The Nevada application noted that “continuous deficit financing by the federal government supports inflationary conditions which adversely affect the nation’s economy, and all Americans, particularly those persons with fixed or low incomes.” Does this sound familiar?
Shockingly, Congress has never officially acknowledged, authenticated, stored or counted Convention applications. This is a clear breach of their mandatory and ministerial constitutional duty under Article V.
Today a fiscal responsibility amendment to the Constitution is needed more than ever. Total federal debt now exceeds national income and is projected to increase to almost double national income by the midcentury. The 8.6% inflation rate in July of this year is well above the 2% target level set by the Federal Reserve for two decades The economy has also experienced negative economic growth for two consecutive quarters.
The effort to enact an inflation-fighting fiscal responsibility amendment to the Constitution has broad public support. The state-based Fiscal Responsibility Amendment Task Force has organized a coalition of grassroots organizations supporting an Article V Amendment Convention. The task force has held seminars for state legislators as part of meetings organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC also has developed various tools to help achieve the adoption of a fiscal responsibility amendment which is most likely to focus on stabilizing federal debt/gross domestic product at a reasonable and sustainable level.
For too many years Congress has dropped the ball by failing to record and count state resolutions calling for a fiscal responsibility amendment to the Constitution. But Mr. Arrington and his cosponsors in Congress are trying the rectify this wrong.
Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate in September. Finally, citizens can play a key role in adopting a fiscal responsibility amendment to the Constitution. HCR 101 calls for any proposed amendment to be ratified by citizen conventions in at least three-quarters (38) of the states. If Congress fails to act within a reasonable period, we expect that one or more states will file a Mandamus action in the federal courts to force Congress to act.
- Dr. Barry Poulson is the Emeritus Professor of economics at the University of Colorado. Hon. David M. Walker is a Former Comptroller General of the United States. They are both co-founders of the Federal Fiscal Sustainability Foundation.