House committee passes federal balanced budget resolution
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House committee passes federal balanced budget resolution

Date: January 27, 2010
By: Jeremy Essig
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HCR 34 and HCR 35

JEFFERSON CITY - A measure that seeks to alter the current interpretation of the U.S. Constitution by some legal scholars passed through a House committee Wednesday.

Without opposition, the House Budget Committee approved a resolution that would call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced budget.

"The worst problem, of course, is the growth of federal power that arises from being able to appropriate without limitation," said Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, a sponsor of the resolution. "That is what scares me the most." 

Missouri had passed a resolution in 1983 that called for both a balanced budget and a constitutional convention.  So far, 20 states have passed similar balanced-budget resolutions-- leaving  the measure 14 short of the number required to trigger a constitutional convention.

Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said this resolution was an attempt to call for a federal balanced budget amendment, without having a constitutional convention.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires Congress to hold a constitutional convention, if legislatures in two-thirds of the states send resolutions asking for a convention, said Carl Esbeck, MU law professor.

Icet, said he interprets Article V to also mean that if two-thirds of the states ask for Congress to send a specific amendment to the states, Congress is required to do so -- without holding a constitutional convention.

If states cannot petition Congress for individual amendments, Icet said, "It raises the question of what power states have."

According to Esbeck, however, states only have two methods of petitioning Congress for a constitutional amendment. The first, Esbeck said, is to send a request asking for an amendment to be proposed. The second is to call for a constitutional convention.

Icet said the original Bill of Rights were sent to the states for ratification or refusal. He sees this legislation as attempting to achieve the same process.

A couple of  witnesses expressed fear that an enaction this resolution could open up all current amendments within the Constitution for consideration

"There's plenty of legal argumentation that could be made that the Constitution itself does not hold them to that singular purpose," said Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network - a religious lobbying group. "A constitutional crisis question is going to come down to a simple, analytical and academic legal question. And the lawyers will figure it out for us. Do we really want that to be the case?"

In response to an earlier question posed by Rep. Charles Schlottach, R-Owensville, Kelly said he was uncertain as to the ramifications of triggering a constitutional convention.

"Nobody knows the answer to that question," Kelly said. "That's why everybody, scholars on the left and right and law professors are very, very interested in and somewhat apprehensive about a call for the convention. That's the sticking point in all of this."

Icet, said an amendment he added to the resolution would prevent convention delegates from looking at issues other than the budget.

The amendment "will clarify that we as a state are not asking to open Pandora's box, so to speak, but rather for Congress to act so that the states can then in-turn act themselves," Icet said.

Esbeck, citing the first constitutional convention, said, "Once there is a constitutional convention everything is on the table." States could ask conventions delegates to only consider one amendment, Esbeck said, but the requests would be non-binding.

"When I say everything is on the table, I mean everything," Esbeck said.

Kelly, however, said the first constitutional convention was based on the Articles of Confederation, not the Constitution, and that the current system may permit Congress to consider only one amendment.

"I think that that is a fear, Kelly said in reference to a full convention. "I don't think, as Carl believes, it's a certainty. But I think it's a legitimate fear and we're trying to address it."