Lansing — With Gov. Rick Snyder’s blessing, a once-languishing legislative effort to petition Congress for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution is suddenly alive in the Michigan Legislature.
A state House committee held its first hearing Thursday on a resolution calling on Congress to convene a convention of the states for consideration of a constitutional amendment making it unlawful to run the federal government with borrowed money. Snyder a week ago asked lawmakers to pass a joint resolution in his State of the State address, garnering thunderous applause from fellow Republicans who control the Legislature.
With the country’s national debtstanding at $17 trillion and counting, Republican lawmakers are moving quickly get a resolution passed.
“I’ve been waiting patiently for a year to get this thing moving,” said state Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, sponsor of the resolution. “This is not a Republican-Democratic issue. This is an issue that’s going to destroy our country if we don’t move on it.”
Twenty states have sent Congress similar resolutions and 34 states are needed to force Congress to call a convention to consider a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, said William Fruth, a volunteer member of a national group called the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force.
The Constitution allows two-thirds of the states to petition Congress for a convention to consider an amendment, but the provision in Article V of the founding document has never been used, Fruth said.
“We are advancing nationally and there is a very real possibility we’ll be successful in this,” said Fruth, an economic analyst from Palm City, Fla.
If a convention of the states were called and a balanced budget amendment were passed, Fruth said, it would still have to be ratified by 38 state Legislatures to go into effect.
Charlie Owens, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, testified in favor of the resolution and said it could spur Congress to take action to rein in its trillion-dollar annual deficits.
He told the House Financial Liability Reform Committee that, in 1912, Congress sent the states a constitutional amendment creating a direct election of U.S. senators as momentum built to force a convention of the states on the issue.
“We may go through this process and get very close, and Congress may finally act only because they want to be the ones to do it, not the states,” Owens said.
The Michigan League for Public Policy, United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 filed cards with the committee saying they oppose the resolution, but did not have representatives testify.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, voiced concern about the impact of a balanced budget amendment on federal aid the state receives to pay for education programs, highway construction, health insurance for the poor and other programs.
“It’s going to have an immediate and drastic impact on our economy here in Michigan,” Irwin told reporters after the hearing. “When you hear balanced budget amendment, it sounds good — as long as you don’t think about it too much.”