Barry Sheets, Director of the Institute For Principled Policy , presented testimony before the Ohio House Policy and Government Oversight Committee on Tuesday November 19, 2013. The hearing was on Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 5, a resolution applying to Congress for a new constitutional convention purportedly for a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. Mr. Sheets spoke in opposition to the resolution. Opponents were given no opportunity to testify on this resolution in its assigned Ohio Senate committee.
Chairman Dovilla and members of the committee, I come before you today to discuss SJR 5, a resolution memorializing Congress to call a Convention to propose amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
I have been before this committee recently on the House companion version of this resolution, and the comments I shared then continue to be one of the bases of the Institute for Principled Policy’s continued opposition to this resolution’s stated purpose. I wish to add further information to this discussion at this point.
There are only two means of amending the United States Constitution: one means does not involve a convention, the other means does. Congress may directly propose amendments without calling a convention; the states’ only means of proposing amendments for ratification is by the calling of a convention by Congress on the application of 34 states. This encompasses the entirety of Article V’s permissible means to amend.
The resolution before you does call for a Constitutional convention, regardless of what has been said by proponents. A convention which will not be limited in any way other than by the will of those who are empowered as delegates. Let the history of the 1787 Convention be a lesson to us all in this respect.
In a letter published in the January 14th, 1788 edition of the New York Daily Advertiser addressed to Governor Clinton of New York, appointed delegates Robert Yates and John Lansing detailed their reason for leaving the convention early. They noted that their instructions from the legislature of New York were to amend the Articles of Confederation, but what they were faced with at the convention was the adoption of an entirely new Constitution with greater centralized national power.
They stated “It is with the sincerest concern we observe that in the prosecution of the important objects of our mission, we have been reduced to the disagreeable alternative of either exceeding the powers delegated to us, and giving our assent to measures which we conceived destructive of the political happiness of the citizens of the United States; or opposing our opinion to that of a body of respectable men…”
But Lansing and Yates were not alone. Elbridge Gerry also had grave reservations regarding the impact of Article V. In his book, “The Compromising of the Constitution” Rexford Tugwell, a high ranking Cabinet official in the Roosevelt administration, fellow of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions and a major proponent of a new constitutional model called the “Constitution of the New States”, stated this: “There was a further entry in Madison’s notes on September 10, when the Convention was nearing its end. On that day Gerry moved to reconsider the article providing that legislatures in two-thirds of the states might require Congress to call an amending convention. He asked whether this was a proper arrangement since a majority in a convention called by the Congress could bind the states to “innovations that might subvert the state constitutions altogether.”
Those concerns mirror those of the Institute, who firmly hold that a national convention is a body with full power to set its own course and decide on its own how extensively to change our current Constitutional system, and whether or not to continue the existing ratification process or to choose new methods to achieve their goals. SJR 5 cannot, and will not, be able to bind delegates, unless they show the character of Yates and Lansing, seeing that they must choose principle over political or peer allegiance. We respectfully submit to you that a safer course of action is to not pass this resolution, and work with our Congressional delegation and United States Senators to curb spending and bring it in line with sound Constitutional parameters.
In an addendum Mr. Sheets testified to the enormity of the current indebtedness of the United States and the virtual impossibility of reducing or eliminating that debt by simply adopting a balanced budget amendment. He provided the committee with an article from Forbes magazine by way of support for his additional testimony. We provide links to that Forbes article as well as an analysis of the numbers from another article.