By Dan Menefee
For Maryland Reporter
Responding to fears about how President Trump and a runaway constitutional convention might tamper with the U.S. Constitution, Democrats at the State House are moving closer to rescinding decades-old calls for a constitutional convention to deal with issues of the day.
A Senate resolution that would “rescind, repeal, cancel, void, nullify, and supersede” four historical applications to the U.S. Congress for a convention was adopted in the Senate on Thursday. Republicans fought in vain for an amendment to keep the 1975 call for a balanced budget open for seven years.
The measure, SJ2, heads for a final vote on Friday where passage is expected. The House Rules Committee takes up its version of the bill, HJ2, on Friday.
“We as a legislature need to take a stand and ask the federal government to…balance the budget,” said Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings in floor debate on Thursday.
Jennings said at the time of the 1975 call the federal debt was $503 billion, 33% of gross domestic product (GDP), but today’s $20 trillion debt is now at 105% of GDP — and represents a national security threat that has brought stern warnings from former military leaders and heads of state.
Debt worse than enemies
Sen. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, said great civilizations like the Romans and Greeks fell to staggering debt and unaffordable social programs, not war.
“They did not fall from the outside they imploded,” Serafini said. “The biggest threat to our country would be our debt.”
Serafini said both political parties were responsible for the behemoth national debt.
“It is a bipartisan problem, the Republicans have added to this debt as much as the Democrats,” he said.
He said most of the U.S. debt is owned by foreign governments that could bring ruin to the United States be simply selling off the debt.
“All they have to do is sell the U.S. Bonds they hold,” Serafini said. “It would be devastating. “They don’t have to fire one missile or put any military boots on the ground.”
He said the ruin would come in a matter of days.
Fear of Republican states
Democrats shot down the amendment over fears that 33 Republican-led states could use Maryland’s open calls to move for a convention and advance a conservative agenda that would not be limited to a single topic. Currently 28 states have calls for a balanced budget, among other calls.
“It would leave open very broad agenda items,” said Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery. “It’s those who are in the room that make the rules and they can do whatever they want.”
It takes 34 states, two-thirds, to call a convention and 38 to ratify any changes to the Constitution, four-fifths. But fears have been raised in some Democrat states that their open calls could be used to get to the magic number of 34. Delaware recently passed a similar measure to void its calls.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery,the lead sponsor of the resolution, said the language in Jenning’s amendment would broaden the scope of Maryland’s participation in a convention.
“It says we are willing to have our call grouped into whatever other calls different states have made,” He said. He said there were different calls from other states on a wide range of subjects.
“This [amendment] is dangerously broad as far as what we would now be going on record to do,” Madaleno said. “We should not be lumping ourselves in with those states that passed very different [calls].
Balanced budget ties hands
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, argued that a balanced budget amendment at the federal level would have tied former President Obama’s hands from borrowing the U.S. economy out of the 2008 recession. Pinsky said the last time the country had a balanced budget was under former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Since 1939 the Maryland General Assembly has made four requests for a convention under Article 5 of the Constitution. They called for limiting federal taxing power, apportioning legislative bodies, allowing school prayer and mandating a balanced federal budget.
Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org