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Amid U.S. debt explosion, convention of states drive seeks to claw back power from Washington

With the support of 15 states, the movement for an Article V convention to amend the constitution is almost halfway to its goal.

Updated: March 6, 2021 - 11:16am

This week, the U.S. national debt hit $28 trillion. D.C. politicians are preparing to bring back congressional earmarks. And the Senate is soon to vote on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that critics complain offers more pork, pet projects and political payoffs than it does direct relief from the economic ravages wrought by the pandemic.

Amid exploding debt and the expansion and concentration of political power in Washington, a grassroots movement led by an organization called Convention of States Action is working to bypass Congress and empower the states to rein in federal power and spending directly through the constitutional amendment process.

Under Article V of the Constitution, a constitutional amendment can be proposed by a convention of states, which requires the approval of two-thirds of state legislatures to be called into session. Despite the mechanism's enshrinement in the Constitution by the nation's founders, the states have never called a convention.

Convention of States Action is a 501 (c) (4) nonprofit with roots in the Tea Party movement. After years of advocacy work, the organization, which claims an estimated 5 million supporters and volunteers, is almost halfway to securing the support of the 34 states needed to call a constitutional convention.

In 2016, the organization simulated a convention in Colonial Williamsburg, Va. The "amendments" that were approved during the weekend-long event focused primarily on the theme of the public debt. One amendment adopted would require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress to increase the national debt. Another gave states the power (by a three-fifths vote, or 30 states) to abrogate any federal law, regulation, or executive order. Two others imposed congressional term limits and repealed the 16th amendment.

Mark Meckler, co-founder and president of Convention of States Action, calls an Article V constitutional convention "the ultimate act of federalism."

"This is a chance for the states to go ahead and reclaim their power," Meckler told the "Just the News AM" TV program. "The federal government is never going to give up its power. It doesn't matter whether it's Democrats or Republicans in D.C., they like the power centralized."

Meckler — who is currently doubling as interim CEO of alternative social media network Parler — spoke with Just the News from a hotel room in Wisconsin, where he appeared before the state's legislature this week. He is optimistic that Wisconsin will become the 16th state to call for a convention after hearing his case that the themes of the amendments adopted by the simulated convention five years ago are now timelier and more important than ever. 

For now, 15 states have signed on to a resolution calling for a convention of the states, another eight have approved the call in one of their legislative chambers, and an additional 12 are preparing to take up the question this year. If all goes to plan, Meckler and his organization would have the support of 35 states, one more than required to call a convention. At the convention itself, 38 states (three fourths of state legislatures) would be needed to ratify any amendments proposed.

Though government spending and centralized power may seem to have reached historic peaks only recently, the most significant moment of consolidation of the D.C. power structure was actually 1913, contends Meckler.

In 1913 — Woodrow Wilson's first year in the White House — Congress ratified both the 16th and 17th amendments, which established, respectively, the federal income tax and the election of United States senators by popular vote, as opposed to being appointed by state legislatures. The same year also saw the establishment of the Federal Reserve System, the central banking system of the United States. 

"All of that stuff happened in a single year in 1913 — that's really a fundamental turning point in the system of American governance," said Meckler.

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