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Amendment plan best to remedy fiscal mess

Caesar had Brutus, Peyton Manning has Patriot fans and state Sen. David Long has Sheila Kennedy.

Kennedy, a law and public-policy professor at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis writing in the June 8 Journal Gazette, pooh-poohs Long's goal of restoring fiscal sanity to the federal government through a state-led constitutional amendment process.

Before we look at her argument, here is the background:

Congress, as spelled out by Article V of the U.S. Constitution, can propose constitutional changes by a two-thirds vote of each house. If Congress fails to act, however, the people desiring constitutional reform, the states themselves, by a two-thirds majority (34 states), can call a convention for proposing amendments, which then must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Twenty-four of the required 34 states have called for the overwhelmingly popular basic fiscal reform of a federal balanced-budget amendment. Thanks to Long and other state legislators across the country, the nation is well on its way to what might become the most significant fiscal reform in American history.

So, what is Kennedy's beef with Long? She argues that such a convention would be unconstrained in its scope and could morph into a runaway convention, one controlled by special interests that could radically alter our constitutional structure.

It is a tired, old argument. And Kennedy tips her hand when she misleadingly refers to the Article V process as a “constitutional convention.” The appropriate term is a “convention for proposing amendments.” It would almost certainly be limited to the drafting and proposal of a single amendment – such as that federal balanced-budget amendment I mentioned earlier.

Kennedy probably realizes this, thus the bulk of her argument rests on her claim – get this – that Americans are too stupid to understand our Constitution and therefore it is too dangerous to amend it.

Kennedy further argues that we already have a process for reform – elections. “Just throw the bums out” is her simplistic advice.

OK, let me get this straight: Americans are too stupid to understand our constitution (as Kennedy documents from her experience as a civics educator) but somehow come Election Day we magically become smart enough to elect the right people?

Give me a break. Kennedy would not propose a constitutional amendment aimed at imposing fiscal discipline on Washington because the average person is deficient civically. Instead, she would rely on those same civic deficients to send the right people to Washington to fix the problem Washington has refused to fix.

Again, Long and hundreds of other informed and civic-minded leaders have another idea: Let's use a constitutional provision created for just this moment: a state-led convention for proposing amendments with the sole purpose of ending the deficits, reining in the debt and preserving our economic prosperity into the future.

If one recognizes that our current problem arises mainly from a systemically overspending federal government, you understand that the solution must also be systemic – i.e., a change in the underlying rules by which the system operates. This in a sentence is what Article V is about.

I sense that Kennedy is one who, although talking about the dangers of deficits and debts placing a “burden on our children and grandchildren,” is comfortable with her little slice of the state largesse. It is not surprising that she is reluctant to change the status quo.

I, on the other hand, am one of those children whom Kennedy professes to care so much about. And I say this to her generation, the one responsible for the mess of entitlement spending and crony capitalism: Bring on the radical constitutional change. It is our last best hope for halting the crazy train of reckless government spending before it wrecks our economy and my economic future.

Tyler Watts, an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, teaches economics at Ball State University. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.