The nation’s founding document could look a little different if a resolution moving through the S.C. Legislature passes.
South Carolina could join other states in calling for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution, after a state Senate panel Thursday approved a call for such a convention.
Supporters of the move told senators a new convention – the nation’s first since the Constitution was adopted in 1787 – is needed to balance the federal budget and control spending. Opponents worry what kind of changes could come out of a convention if that door is opened.
Loren Enns, an activist with the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, warned senators the interest on the national debt now makes up a larger part of the federal budget than national defense, adding it soon could grow into Washington’s largest expenditure. “We’ve reached a financial reckoning.”
Others said a constitutional convention isn’t needed to balance the federal budget.
“All it takes is voters in 218 (congressional) districts who want a balanced budget to elect someone to do it,” John Perna told the panel.
Hoyt Wheeler, a business professor at the University of South Carolina, told senators he is concerned a balanced-budget amendment would leave the government unable to respond to a recession, disaster or other pressing need.
Lynn Teague with the League of Women Voters said she is concerned about other changes a convention could make.
“We know there are some in the Legislature who want a broader convention,” Teague said, referring to a separate resolution sponsored by the Convention of States Project that would add amendments to limit the terms of federal officials and the federal government’s “power and jurisdiction.”
Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, has advocated for that kind of action – although the Convention of States project officially opposes a balanced budget-only approach.
But David Guldenschuh with the Heartland Institute said states could limit the items a convention could propose.
“There’s a great deal of propaganda from people who believe they’re protecting the Constitution,” Guldenschuh said. “There’s an abundance of precedent that a convention can be limited to a single subject.”
The measure now moves to the full Senate Judiciary Committee. If it passes there, it would go to the Senate floor.
Advocates have called for the convention as a way to get around congressional inaction on spending issues. The Constitution’s Article V offers two ways for changes to be made – Congress can propose amendments or two-thirds of state legislatures could call for a convention to amend the Constitution.
Currently, 28 states have passed measures calling for a new convention, according to the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. Support from 34 states is required to call a convention.
But there’s disagreement even on that point.
Sue Berkowitz with the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center said the states of Maryland, New Mexico and Nevada have voted to rescind their previous support for a new constitutional convention.
Whatever the convention proposes would need the support of an even higher number of states – 38 – to be added to the Constitution.
State Sen. Rex Rice, R-Pickens, supported the balanced-budget resolution, noting the national debt has increased more than $3 trillion since the resolution first was introduced last year.
“It says $17 trillion in debt,” Rice said, referring to resolution. “Now it’s more than $20 trillion.”
State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, opposed the move, saying the dangers are too great.
“There’s greater political polarization today than ever before,” McElveen said. “We’re not all pulling in the same direction.”
The measure is separate from a proposal by some S.C. legislators to call for a state-level convention to change South Carolina’s 1895 constitution.