11.22.2011 1

National Debt Relief Amendment Has Advantages Over Balanced Budget Amendment

By Kevin Mooney

While a broad cross section of Americans continue to favor a balanced budget amendment (BBA), the idea is too closely identified with the Republican Party, and is unlikely to pass anytime soon, North Dakota State Sen. Curtis Olafson, has long argued. The facts appear to be on his side.

The latest effort to pass amendment failed in the House earlier this month with Republicans voting 236-4 in favor and Democrats voting 161-25 against. Twenty-three more votes would have been needed to secure the two-thirds voted needed for passage. Even so, the sentiment standing behind the BBA is very much alive, but there is a better way, says Olafson, who is himself a Republican.

Unlike the BBA, the National Debt Relief Amendment (NRDA) does not have a “get of jail free card,” that the political class can use to sidestep anti-spending restraints, he points out.

“With a two-thirds vote a balanced budget amendment could be waived,” Olafson explains. “I prefer the National Debt Relief Amendment because it is much simpler and it does not dictate any set of policies. It also stands a much better chance of getting to the finish line and exerting pressure on Washington D.C.”

Under Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress is required to set a time and place for delegates from all 50 states to convene once 34 states petition for an amendments convention.

The NDRA was drafted by RestoringFreedom.Org, a Texas-based non-profit group, and endorsed by the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based free-market think tank. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) also adopted the resolution providing for the NDRA as model legislation in January. Olafson co-sponsored the resolution in favor of NRDA in his home state.

The NDRA’s proposed amendment language reads as follows: “An increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate states.”

In just the past few weeks, state legislators in Montana, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin have committed to introducing NDRA resolutions. The other states where the NDRA is pending introduction or passage are: Arkansas, Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Utah.  “Serious discussions” are now underway in 12 other states, Olafson notes. All told, this means the NDRA is in play in 24 states.

Congress would find it difficult to simply ignore the NRDA if it went into effect because the financial markets would discount the value of bonds that would be marketed to finance an increase in debt that has not been approved by the states, Olafson observes.

“Anyone who thinks Congress is suddenly going to have an epiphany and reform itself will be sorely disappointed,” he says. “But if we get just a few more states on board with the resolution, we are off to the races.”

Some critics of NDRA have expressed concern that it could open the way to a runaway convention where radical amendments are proposed. In response, the Goldwater Institute has published “10 Facts” to “Refute the Mythology of a Runaway Convention.”

For starters, Goldwater points out that Article 5 does not authorize a full scale convention, but also authorizes a convention for amendments.

Moreover, there is a strong case to be made that the “runaway convention” is already in motion on Capitol Hill. The NRDA is one way to upset the apple cart with the support of average Americans in both major political parties.

Olafson points out, “Getting to that magic number of 34 states to call a constitutional convention, means that a few blue states would be needed. But that’s part of the appeal. NRDA has no strong connection with either party and stands a strong chance of connection with voters across political and ideological lines. Moreover, they are enough safeguards in place to guard against a renegade convention process.

The fear over an Article 5 amendments convention, while it’s pervasive and widespread it is not rational,” he said. “If you do some basic research on the Article 5 process and the history of how and why it was formulated by the founding fathers you come to realize there is no good reason to fear the process.”

There is also the added hurdle of needing 38 states to ratify the NDRA or any other amendment.

“I ask our critics to produce for us their official list of 38 states that they fear would ratify a dangerous, extremist or radical amendment,” he said. “I have challenged many people who preach fear mongering to produce a list and so far no one has because it doesn’t exist.”

Kevin Mooney is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government.

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