Bernier Seeks Constitutional Convention To Balance Budget

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Premiere Date: 
June 16, 2017

Bernier Seeks Constitutional Convention To Balance Budget

The Wisconsin State Assembly passed a resolution demanding a convention of states to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If the Senate supports the resolution, Wisconsin would become the 28th of 34 states needed to force a convention under Article V. Republican Rep. Kathy Bernier, the lead sponsor of the resolution, says "the federal government is out of control."

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

The state Assembly this week passed a resolution demanding a convention of states to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The vote now goes to the state Senate. Under the resolution, Wisconsin would become the 28th state of 34 states needed to force a convention, to add the budget amendment. Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows a convention for proposing amendments to be held if two-thirds of the states, or 34 states, call for one. Now to take effect, any amendments passed at convention would have to be approved by three-quarters of the states, or 38 states. Opponents worry this could lead to all kind of revisions to the Constitution. In tonight's Closer Look, we have both sides of this issue, starting with a lead sponsor of the resolution, Republican Representative Kathy Bernier of Chippewa Falls. Thanks very much for being here.

Kathy Bernier:

You're very welcome. My pleasure to be here.

Frederica Freyberg:

First we want to ask, why do you want to do this?

Kathy Bernier:

Well I think the federal government and the $20 trillion in debt along with all of the money they've taken from our Social Security benefits is the primary reason. It is to get the federal government to stop utilizing dollars for the futures of our children and our grandchildren, and to get a grasp of our finances so that we have a more secure future.

Frederica Freyberg:

This plan, though, is certainly without historic precedent. No constitutional convention has been held since the Constitution was framed in 1787. Amendments since then have been proposed by Congress and approved by the states. Why do you need to buck history on this and go this route?

Kathy Bernier:

Well, I don't see it as bucking history. I just see it as a provision in the Constitution that has not yet been utilized. James Madison and George Mason had a significant discussion about why this provision should be a part of Article V. And that is when the states, the representative of the state see that the federal government is out of control and that there is one mechanism to change the Constitution, to assist in that process. And so it has not yet been done. And it took three years for George Washington and James Madison to gather the states back in 1787, to get to that point of amending the Articles of Confederation. So with 50 states clearly it's going to be a lot more effort and a lot more energy. And yet, once we reach a certain point, say, 30 states or 32 states, then potentially Congress will act. And that is what happened with many of the other amendments to the Constitution.

Frederica Freyberg:

Ok. So, you view this as kind of pushing them toward that.

Kathy Bernier:

A big push.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, what about the concerns on the part of critics that this opens the door to all kinds of revisions of the Constitution?

Kathy Bernier:

Well, my colleagues and I, and the Assembly of state legislators, is a group of legislators from as many as 34 states over the last four and a half years have worked on this particular issue. Setting up the rules, making sure that there is a process in place, and trying to figure out what the concerns are of a run-away convention, to determine that if that is the real legitimate concern and we have determined it is not. The checks and balances were built in by the founding fathers just in the provision of having the amendment, whatever comes out of the convention, having to be ratified by 38 states. And in all but one state, there are two houses in each state. If something comes out of there that is not specific to the petition, which is a balanced budget amendment, likely it will not be ratified by the states and it will be -- it will go nowhere.

Frederica Freyberg:

Democrats on the floor of the Assembly this week though said that there are actually not legal provisions preventing other additions. And if that's true, what if additions included things liberals might push like reversing "Citizens United."

Kathy Bernier:

We had that discussion, too. We have worked really hard to get both Democrats and Republicans involved in ASL, and that is a potential. But, once again, we are a nation of laws and rules. And for the most part, most of the citizens in the United States follow the rules and follow the laws. And when they're sent by their state to do just a balanced budget amendment and they are a group that go off and do something else, there is nothing that I would -- I can only speculate, but I think that if you're a member of an organization and you have a group of people that go off and do something that they are not specifically there to do, then you adjourn the convention and just stop it right then and there.

Frederica Freyberg:

Very quickly with less than half a minute left, as for the resolution calling for this balanced budget, does that tie the hands of the federal government in spending decision, some of which might be needed for, say, national security or other needs?

Kathy Bernier:

No, it is a general provision calling for a convention to balance the budget. A budget can be balanced with still allowing to borrow, to pay off long-term debt. It also can allow for emergencies, such as for defense, and various other emergencies. So, that is what the delegates would hammer out. The actual wording of how and why the federal government between the time that they balanced the budget and they go to the next budget that they can have provisions. I foresee there would be provisions in case of emergency.

Frederica Freyberg:

We need to leave it there. Representative Kathy Bernier, thank you very much for joining us.

Kathy Bernier:

You're welcome.

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