CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Sixteen people turned out for an early Tuesday public hearing on three House resolutions to urge Congress to call a convention of states to consider constitutional amendments.
Ten people supported the amendments, six opposed them.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows two-thirds of the states – 34 now – to apply to Congress to call a convention for proposing amendments.
Resolutions of this sort are a perennial issue in the Capitol and generally cover the same few topics; only one has passed in recent years. A House Judiciary subcommittee set Tuesday’s hearing to consider whether to move forward with the three current resolutions.
The perennial issues have been a federal balanced budget, fiscal restraint, Congressional term limits and limiting the power of federal government. HCR 36 in 2016 took care of the balanced budget issue and was adopted by both houses.
Two of the three current resolutions – HCR 61 and HJR 14 – deal with term limits. The third, HCR 33, is more sweeping.
It says: “The Legislature hereby applies to Congress, under the provisions of Article V of the Constitution of the United States, for the calling of a convention of the states limited to proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”
The resolution puts forth a number of complaints: Presidents overstep their limits through executive orders; the concentration of federal power makes federal officials less responsive to the people and more so to lobbyists and special interests; much of federal law is enacted by unelected federal bureaucrats; “the federal government has created a crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending” and invaded the legitimate roles of the states through federal mandates.
Citizen advocate Betty Rivard said she’s seen these proposals come and go through the years. “I feel a little bit like Groundhog Day.” The only convention in history was the one that created the Constitution and “it turned out OK. We’re not the founding fathers or mothers.”
Lack of precedent and parameters for a convention was a constant theme for the opponents. Delegates could easily exceed the call and do whatever they wished to the Constitution, they said.
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, said a convention could threaten constitutional stability and put all of our current freedoms and rights “up for grabs.”
On the pro side, Richard Saffle with Wolf PAC WV said peer reviewed studies, including papers by the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Bar Association, say that a convention could be limited to one or more specific topics.
It would be difficult, he said, to get 34 states to agree on an issue, let alone get them all to run amuck and annihilate the Constitution.
Dan Starkey, with the Conventions of States Action, expressed his frustration. “I’m fed up. I’ve had all I can take out of Washington, D.C.” The only way to control Congress is to limit terms and end entrenched power. “It’s time for us to push back.”
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also with the Convention of States, said “We’ve lost who decides what happens in the country.”
The states created the federal government, he said, and it’s time to restore the constitution to its intended purpose of federalism, with limited federal power and the states sharing power and making decisions for themselves.
The subcommittee is charged with evaluating the testimony and bringing a report to the full committee for possible action on the resolutions. No action has been announced at this time.