Note: The following is testimony from North Dakota state Sen. Curtis Olafson regarding his resolution that, if adopted, would place that state on the list of those calling for a National Debt Relief Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Michigan lawmakers are also considering this proposal.
North Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee Testimony
District 10 State Senator Curtis Olafson
January 19th, 2011
I am here this morning to provide information on Senate Concurrent Resolution 4007. This resolution is part of a nationwide effort to invoke our rights as a state legislature under Article V of the US Constitution to make application to Congress to convene an Amendments Convention. The proposed amendment is contained in the text of the resolution and specifies that "An increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate states."
This idea was first proposed by Restoringfreedom.org and has been thoroughly researched by the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. It has also just recently been adopted as model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The nationwide effort is called the National Debt Relief Amendment and North Dakota is the first state in the US in which the resolution is being heard in committee. The resolution has prime sponsors in about 8 states so far with potential prime sponsors in about 6 other states seriously considering sponsorship.
I want to emphatically state that this is not a partisan effort. The federal debt is not a partisan issue. We all have to acknowledge that the debt has increased under the control of both parties. Moreover, people from all parts of the political spectrum are rightly concerned about the federal debt. Everyone I have talked to universally understands that the level of debt is a serious problem. I believe that it is so serious that it is an imminent threat to the very sovereignty of our country.
Everyone agrees that we have a problem, but some offer old ideas as the solution to the problem. Some say, "We need to change the people in Congress. We have done that. We have a far different group of people in Congress now than decades ago when the problem began to grow. Others say "we need to change parties." We have changed the party in control more than once and more than twice. We have changed people and we have changed parties and the problem continues to grow. The problem is not based on people and it is not based on party. The problem is systemic and the system and the ground rules need to be changed.
The federal debt has recently rolled beyond $14 trillion dollars, which translates to over $45,000 per man woman and child in the U.S. And remember, not every man, woman and child is a taxpayer, so each taxpayer's share of the debt is now over $126,000. The website usdebtclock.org gives a sobering view of the running meter that is our federal debt.
You may be hearing from opponents to this resolution that you should fear a "runaway convention." I had that concern myself at one time, but after researching the issue, I strongly agree with the conclusion of constitutional experts that the fear is unfounded. Note that in the text of the resolution beginning on line 18 that the resolution requires that the convention be strictly limited to the consideration of this one proposed amendment. There are complex legal and constitutional reasons why one need not fear a runaway convention, but there are also some very compelling political reasons why the process should not be feared.
Delegates selected by state legislatures would go to a convention with a powerful mandate from their state legislature that they limit their deliberations to the consideration of one issue and one issue only. If they went beyond the scope and call of the convention, that would be immediately challenged in a court of law, and should be challenged by Congress, as a convention whose results should be considered null and void. If both the courts and Congress fail to declare the convention as invalid, the ultimate protection is that 38 states must ratify the proposal agreed to in a convention. It is important to remember that unless and until 38 states ratify a proposal, nothing changes and the Constitution is untouched. It is interesting to note that Congress, on a 2/3 vote of both chambers; can propose amendments for ratification by the states, but you never hear opponents to the state initiated method expressing fears about a "runaway Congress."
The strength of the proposed amendment is its simplicity. The amendment does not dictate policy. It only specifies that if Congress feels that they have a compelling need to increase the federal debt limit, they need to come to the government closest to the people, our state legislatures, to seek their approval. It does not require tax increases or spending cuts. It simply provides a check and balance to prevent Congress from arbitrarily and unilaterally raising the debt limit and charging off that debt to our children and grandchildren. They did not sign a mortgage and they did not cast a vote, but they are going to be handed the bill for today's spending. We must act now. A runaway Article V amendments convention is a myth. A runaway federal debt of $14 trillion is a reality.