Idaho lawmakers are considering joining fellow Republican-dominated states calling for a constitutional amendment to limit federal government power.
The Senate State Affairs Committee introduced legislation Wednesday calling for a convention of states to propose a federal balanced budget requirement. Previous efforts have failed to take hold in the Idaho Legislature. However, with Republicans controlling the majority of state legislatures, Congress and the White House, the idea has once resurfaced with full force and is becoming one of the hot button subjects of this year's legislative session.
Proponents argue that every state except Vermont has some sort of balanced budget requirement and that the federal government should be held to the same standard.
Critics counter there's no way to control a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution, opening the possibility to veer off into hot-button social issues — such as banning abortion or gay marriage — even though there is no current talk of people doing so.
The U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times since it was ratified in 1788, and its Article V spells out two ways to propose amendments. By a two-thirds vote of each chamber, the U.S. House and Senate can refer an amendment to the states. Or two-thirds of the state legislatures can request that Congress call a convention of the states.
Twenty-eight state legislatures have already approved similar measures as of the beginning of this year. Idaho is now the latest target of the nonprofit Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force to get to the two-thirds threshold.
Either way, three-fourths of the states — or 38 — are needed to ratify an amendment before it takes effect.
If the supporters of a balanced budget amendment succeed, it would be the first time in the nation's history that states initiated the process.
In Idaho, the biggest obstacle in calling for a constitutional convention has been Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, of Idaho Falls, who has remained skeptical of the legal claims surrounding the idea.
While Davis agreed to introduce the constitutional convention legislation Monday morning, he detailed his concerns with the proposal during a presentation later that day from former GOP U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, who is now a senior adviser to the Convention of the States Project.
"Studying this has not just been a hobby, this has been an area of significant reading on my part and I continue to have grave concerns about taking the steps you want to continue," Davis said.
Coburn spent most of his hour-long discussion taking questions from lawmakers while arguing that the federal debt was one of the greatest threats to the nation.
At one point Coburn said he saw no moral difference between abortion and deficit spending, and at times got into heated exchanges with audience members on legal definitions.
"We are stealing the future from our children," Coburn said.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 108 must now clear a full legislative hearing.
Meanwhile, over in the House, Rep. Tom Loertscher, a Republican from Iona, says he has his own bill calling for a convention of states that will be introduced next week. That's the same time another lecture is slated to take place in the Idaho Legislature focusing on the dangers of a constitutional convention.