The Texas Senate is currently debating a measure aimed at amending the U.S. Constitution.
Proposals for two different amendments are gaining support in more than a dozen state capitols around the country. One would require the federal government to pass a balanced budget with few exceptions. The other would permit the repeal of any federal law by vote of two-thirds of state legislatures.
Since November, Texas lawmakers have filed at least six resolutions for a balanced budget amendment and three for a repeal amendment. Two other resolutions urge amendments on both topics and on ones creating congressional term limits, a cap on the national debt and a presidential line-item veto.
The balanced budget amendment appears to have stronger interest among Republican leaders in Texas. That's the measure proposed by state Sens. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, that the Senate is debating right now.
So how do you go about amending the U.S. Constitution? There are two ways and the approach endorsed by Ogden and Shapiro is drawing concerns from both Democrats and some conservative groups.
Both ways to add an amendment are spelled out in a single sentence that comprises Article V. The two methods end with the same requirement: a minimum 38 states must ratify the amendment. The difference is the path to get to that final step and that’s sparking a passionate, though admittedly arcane, debate.
The simpler way is for two-thirds of both chambers of Congress to approve the amendment. The other route is a constitutional convention, a national meeting to consider amendments that must be called if 34 states ask for one. None of the 27 amendments currently in the Constitution were approved via a constitutional convention. Yet that’s the approach Republicans are pursuing in most of the resolutions filed in Austin.
Convention proponents predict the threat of a convention should be enough to get Congress to act. But if that ploy doesn't work, the Constitution provides little guidance on how a convention would be set up, prompting fears of a free-for-all. Amendments on any topic could be called, critics warn.
“You know this democracy stuff is pretty dangerous,” Ogden quipped in a recent interview. He noted that his resolution states that it is automatically rescinded if any other topic but a balanced budget amendment comes up.
But others argue that no one knows if that language could stop a convention once it started.
“This is an unknown area,” said Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law expert at the University of Texas-Austin. “I think that many academics would say that a convention has basically unlimited jurisdiction, so it couldn’t be limited to a single topic.”
UPDATE: The senate passed Ogden's resolution 24-7.