By Warren Wheeler
Virginia Convention of States Project
Northern VA Regional Captain
State legislators are employing the constitutional tool he championed.George Mason spent September 15, 230 years ago, persuading fellow delegates at the Constitutional Convention to fix a fatal flaw in their draft document. The convention was two days from adjourning after nearly four months of painstaking negotiations, yet Mason still feared a federal government that one day could go rogue. With extraordinary foresight, he secured for America’s sovereign citizens the “Break In Case of Emergency” tool they now are employing to defend against federal overreach.
The recurring political pantomime titled “Debt Ceiling” demonstrates Mason’s fear was well founded. Many voters are aware our national debt has reached $20 trillion. Far fewer understand that more than 70% of it was borrowed only since 2001. Despite global hot wars and a long Cold War, a Great Depression, and the Great Society, in 212 years less than $6 trillion of debt was amassed. In the next mere 16 years, more than $14 trillion was piled atop that.
Why? There are no Hoover Dams to point to, no moon landings, nor victories over existential threats. The wars both Bush 43 and Obama fought certainly contributed, but do not come close to explaining it. Some debt perhaps helped overcome the 2008 financial calamity. But exploding debt started long before that, and nine years later—amid low unemployment—already huge annual deficits are expected to grow far worse. For 2018-2027, CBO projects more than $10 trillion in cumulative annual deficits.
That may be low. For 2017, the CBO projects a federal deficit of $693 billion. This June estimate, however, is $134 billion (24%) higher than the CBO’s own January projection. CBO’s explanations leave one wondering if the federal government can ever reliably assess its income or its obligations. If it can’t get the current year right, what are we to make of ten-year projections? CBO’s ten-year deficit estimate rose 7% ($686 billion) from January to June.
In a word, the answer to “why?” is incumbency. Career politicians have every incentive to spend borrowed money, yet none to stop. It avoids unpalatable tradeoffs which inevitably anger a constituency. Debt pushes costs to those who cannot yet vote, but benefits those who can and do. Why stop something that aides your own reelection? There’s no individual accountability for the debt, and Washington’s elites believe no one can or will stop them.
George Mason grappled with this same conundrum: how can irresponsible, self-serving federal officeholders be brought back under control? He argued for a change in Article V, which spells out the two-step amendment process: first they are proposed, then separately adopted (or ratified) by three-fourths of the states. As then drafted, however, only Congress could propose amendments, which required a two-thirds vote in both chambers.
The problem was easily grasped: if the only way to propose amendments was through Congress, how likely is Congress to reform itself? The Framers got it: those with power—especially those abusing it—cling tick-like to the status quo. At Mason’s urging, Article V was changed to enable the states to also propose amendments, while retaining their sole ratification authority.
Amendments are proposed through a Convention of States (also called an Article V Convention). This requires two-thirds (34) of the states to articulate their common purpose for the convention in like-worded resolutions approved by their legislature. It’s not a law. Consequently, it is not presented for signature to governors. This is the will of the people expressed by the representatives closest to them.
State legislators are now employing Article V as George Mason feared would become necessary. Since 2014, twelve states have coalesced behind a Convention of States limited to proposing amendments that achieve one of three goals:
- Placing fiscal restraints on the federal government (ending runaway debt!);
- Curtailing abuse of federal authority, such as spying on citizens and crony-capitalist regulations;
- Imposing term limits on federal officials and members of Congress.
Virginia legislators should act upon their Article V authority and join with other states to amend the Constitution.
On 7 November, all 100 of Virginia’s lower house delegates will be elected. Which candidates intend to use the tool George Mason made possible in order to stop Washington’s self-serving elites from bankrupting the nation? Find out by joining with Convention of States Project’s Virginia volunteers. The place to start is here: www.cosaction.com.
 Update to Budget & Economic Outlook, p. 2, 6-7.
 Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, North Dakota, Georgia, Missouri.
Editor’s Note. An Article V Convention has strong proponents and opponents locally and across America, including within conservative circles. Smart, well-intentioned people disagree on such a convention. The Fairfax Free Citizen welcomes both pro and con articles and comments about it. An open and insightful exchange of ideas about a possible Article V Convention will help inform readers and may contribute to building a consensus on this controversial subject.