Could Article V become a reality?

Threats to democracy aren’t only about who can vote, or whether people can elect the representatives they want. They’re also about what issues are allowed to be subject to ordinary democratic politics in the first place.

Last week, Wyoming became the latest of 29 states—nearly all controlled by Republicans—to pass a resolution in support of an Article V Convention to consider a balanced budget amendment. Wisconsin could soon become the 30th. If just four additional states sign on, such a confab could well become a reality. 

OK, what’s an Article V convention? It’s an alternative way of amending the Constitution, never before achieved, in which two-thirds of the states (that’s 34) call for a convention. Any amendment that comes out of that get-together would need to be ratified by 38 states. 

Small-government conservatives have long wanted an Article V Convention to achieve a balanced budget amendment—a requirement, in other words, that the federal government balance its budget each year, rather than running deficits. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Greg Abbott all support the idea, as does the American Legislative Exchange Council, the secretive and well-funded corporate lobby group.

Of course, mainstream economists tend to think hampering the government’s ability to borrow and spend in response to a changing economic climate would be a terrible idea. Just as important, putting an issue of policy beyond the reach of the regular political process going forward undermines democracy. My book The Great Suppression has more on conservatives’ recent fascination with Article V as a way to achieve a range of policy goals — including a nationwide voter ID requirement — they can’t win through the normal political process. And here’s the respected good government group Common Cause on the danger of Article V.

One former top Tea Party leader has said the issue of Article V “will shape the course of our nation for decades to come.” This is a story that doesn’t get much mainstream media attention, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

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