Constitutional Convention Proposals Draw Strong Reactions

A Republican lawmaker who wants Wisconsin to join other states in pushing for a constitutional convention acknowledged altering the constitution is “a big deal” as Democrats prodded him for details of his plan.

Sen. Chris Kapenga has proposed a resolution calling for a convention of states to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution require a balanced federal budget. At a joint Assembly and Senate committee hearing Tuesday, opponents nervous about the dangers of opening up the Constitution for editing warned of a runaway convention while supporters reiterated the importance of sending a message to Congress about addressing national debt that nears $20 trillion.

Wisconsin would be the 30th of 34 states required for a constitutional convention, making it increasingly likely the procedure could be used for the first time since the Constitution was completed.

“Unmistakable warning signs of the consequences of our debt are evident, yet Washington takes no action,” Kapenga said. “We will move one step closer to putting our nation's fiscal house in order.”

Democratic Rep. Chris Taylor said in a statement that amending the Constitution to require a balanced budget might sound harmless but debt can be a necessary tool for the federal government to respond to emergencies, support social security and boost the economy during recessions.

Kapenga said it is unlikely an amendment could pass without bipartisan support because the Constitution requires at least 38 states to ratify an amendment before it can take effect. “There's a lot of misinformation going around,” he said. “We're getting calls from people who are afraid we're going to take away guns.”

A constitutional convention called by 34 states has never been held, but both conservatives and liberals have floated the idea over the years. Article V details two ways to amend the Constitution. Two-thirds, or 34, of the states can require Congress to call a convention of the states or two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate and House can refer an amendment to the states. Both methods require at least 38 states to ratify an amendment. The GOP controls 33 state legislatures.