- The Washington Times
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rep. Duncan Hunter on Tuesday asked Congress to evaluate whether enough states have officially called for a constitutional convention to propose a balanced budget amendment — marking the next step toward what could be an historic gathering.

Mr. Hunter, California Republican, said Congress should take stock of where things stand after Michigan last week approved an official call for a balanced budget amendment convention. According to some analysts, Michigan’s move makes it the 34th state to request a convention.

The final decision is up to Congress.

“It is my belief that the House should lead an effort to ascertain whether 34 states have voted affirmatively,” Mr. Hunter said in a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner.

“A balanced budget amendment is long overdue and remains an effective tool to address runaway spending and deficits,” he wrote. “With the recent decision by Michigan lawmakers, it is important that the House — and those of us who support a balanced budget amendment — determine whether the necessary number of states have acted and the appropriate role of Congress should this be the case.”

Article V of the Constitution lays out two different ways for amendments to be proposed. The usual way, which has been the case for all 27 amendments so far, involves two-thirds of each house of Congress approving a resolution proposing an amendment. But the Constitution also says if two-thirds of state legislatures demand a convention, Congress shall convene one for the purpose of considering amendments.

SEE ALSO: Constitutional conundrum: Michigan demand for a balanced budget could trigger amendment convention

In either case, the amendments must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
The key question for Congress right now is whether 34 states have issued valid calls for a convention.

Gregory Watson, a constitutional scholar who helped ratify the 27th Amendment in the 1990s, said his count stands at 34 — though he said 12 of those are states that later rescinded their applications.

He said it’s an open question, however, whether an application can be rescinded. That’s one of the issues Congress would have to grapple with should it follow Mr. Hunter’s suggestion and take a closer look at where the tally stands.

Congress would also have to determine if the 34 applications are all similar enough.

A spokesman for Mr. Boehner, Michael Steel, would only say that the speaker’s lawyers will review Mr. Hunter’s request.

“Beyond that, I don’t have any comment at this time,” he said.

Legal scholars say that while an amendment convention has never been tried, it is legitimate.

However, analysts are split on whether it’s a good idea.

Some fear the danger of a runaway convention, which though called for a specific purpose such as proposing a balanced budget amendment, instead ends up rewriting much of the founding document. Others dismiss that, saying the convention can be limited, and that states will have a chance to approve or reject whatever comes out of a convention.

The 27th Amendment mandates that any law changing lawmakers’ salaries cannot take effect until the next term of Congress. It took nearly 203 years to ratify.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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