Governor Ducey paints an enticingly rosy picture of our nation graced by an Article V constitutional convention (Article V resolution gives Arizona a seat at the table, March 14). Truly all our problems will be solved if only Congress calls a convention of the states to, among other things, pass a “balanced budget amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.
What the governor neither allows nor admits is the likelihood of economic chaos and material suffering such a move will cause – for Arizonans and for Americans from coast to coast.
There is good reason – indeed, many good reasons – why this method of amending the Constitution has never been employed since our foundational document was adopted nearly 230 years ago. And there are equally numerous reasons why thousands of leading scholars, economists, leaders in business and government, and legal experts of all political persuasions – including the late Supreme Court Justices Antoni Scalia and Warren Burger and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe – have expressed their deepest, unequivocal opposition to the idea.
Contrary to the governor’s assertion that an Article V convention will “limit the scope and jurisdiction of the federal government and finally impose fiscal restraints on the tax-and-spenders in Washington,” such a process could well unleash the very worst instincts of those who would reverse our nation’s progress and quite possibly have exactly the opposite effect he envisions.
Want greater controls on government? With an Article V convention you’re rolling the dice. You might get more controls on government – or you might get more government controls on you.
While Governor Ducey speaks with pride of signing the Arizona Civics Bill, he surely knows that most Arizonans haven’t the faintest idea what it means to call an Article V convention. And he counts on that lack of knowledge when speaking in broad generalities about the wonders of such a process.
The Balanced Budget Amendment central to current arguments for an Article V convention and so often proposed as the key to getting our nation’s fiscal house in order is, in fact, nothing of the sort. Rather than a panacea for eliminating our budget deficit, this meat cleaver approach will simply result in misery for tens of millions of Americans, and not just our most vulnerable citizens – those with disabilities, children, the elderly, and those seeking to rise out of poverty – for whom federally funded programs are a lifeline and, literally, a life preserver.
By requiring a balanced budget every year, no matter the state of the economy, a Balanced Budget Amendment will lead to more severe and frequent recessions, hurting a broad swath of workers and families. It will put Social Security and other retiree assistance programs at risk. It will jeopardize the readiness of our military. And it will severely restrict federal support for states – a particularly frightening scenario for Arizona, which is among the largest beneficiaries of federal dollars.
Governor Ducey and his compatriots are overly fond of the analogy of households having to live within their means – in the governor’s words, “You can’t spend more than you make” – therefore neither should the federal government. Superficially, it sounds like common sense: the federal government may not spend more than it brings in during any given year. Look only a little deeper, though, and it becomes clear this simply isn’t reality, nor is it realistic.
Indeed, this false analogy ignores the basic fact that the majority of U.S. households and many corporations actually do not have balanced budgets: they avail themselves of credit – they borrow – in order to make sound investments in their future, such as home mortgages, college loans, and business loans. So, too, must the federal government be able to make long term investments in the form of usable roads; safe airports, rail systems and seaports; research that advances knowledge and prevents or cures disease; availability of basic medical care; retirement and other support systems…and the list goes on.
Without credit, without the ability to borrow money for essential purchases, our economy suffers and our standard of living diminishes, whether that borrowing is done by private individuals, corporations, or governments.
Within reason and when utilized responsibly, debt is a valuable economic tool both for the private and public sectors. Can it be abused? Without question – by private citizens and governments. And is it clear to virtually everyone that a $20 trillion federal debt is unsustainable? Absolutely.
All parties have an interest in working to reduce the deficit as speedily as possible, but doing so responsibly rather than recklessly. An Article V convention and a Balanced Budget Amendment are not the solutions to whatever list of grievances state politicians hold against the nation’s leadership in Washington, D.C.
Fortunately, there are other options. In the past 10 years, we have seen a number of comprehensive and informed efforts to tackle our nation’s long-term fiscal health. These include the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (known alternatively as “Simpson-Bowles” for its co-chairs), the Rivlin-Domenici Deficit Reduction Plan, and the “Gang of Six” U.S. Senators. While each offered specific choices that raised opposition from different constituencies, they would allow us the use of a scalpel, rather than an ax, when operating on the federal budget.
The Arc of Arizona, which for nearly 65 years has advocated for the civil rights and community inclusion of Arizonans with intellectual and developmental disabilities, stood shoulder-to-shoulder last week with representatives from such diverse organizations as the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, League of Women Voters of Arizona, Arizona Advocacy Network, and The John Birch Society to call upon our state legislators to abandon this misguided Article V effort and to focus instead on truly practicable solutions to our state’s, and our nation’s, economic challenges.
We renew that call here. Getting Arizona “a seat at the table” means nothing if, in doing so, Arizonans and millions of other Americans are left starving.
Jon Meyers is executive director of The Arc of Arizona.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.