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In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, Lawrence Lessig called for a Constitutional convention to address the role of money in the political process. Article V of the Constitution says a convention can be convened by petitions from two-thirds of the state and reformers have often called for such an event to redress their grievances — to no avail.

However, a new movement on the far right hopes to change American history and the powers of the federal government by convening a so-called “Convention of the States,” which aims to severally limit the powers of the federal government with “a balanced budget amendment, clarified definitions of the general welfare and commerce clauses, and limits on federal taxation.” The idea is being promoted by right-wing heroes Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and David Barton. But its biggest ally is the right’s most effective tool for passing legislation in the states.

Wisconsin is the latest state to consider a petition for a national Constitutional convention using language promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch-funded non-profit network of state legislatures behind Stand Your Ground and Ag-Gag laws, which make it harder to report animal abuse. And to make sure the convention, which is supposed to be open-ended, doesn’t get hijacked for non-balanced-budget-related amendments — to, say, overturn Citizens United, ALEC is also promoting a companion bill that would limit the convention.

The right’s fixation on a balanced budget amendment is just another gambit to cut taxes since most iterations include severe limits on taxation. Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Budget Project explains how such an amendment would inflict massive damage during economic crises:

A balanced budget amendment in the U.S. Constitution would result in much longer and deeper recessions and would cause unnecessary job losses. When the economy goes into a dive and people are without jobs, the need for food stamps, health insurance and unemployment insurance rise sharply. Since tax revenue typically falls as the need for those programs rises, a balanced budget would require cuts to these safety net programs and other areas of spending at the worst possible time. That would not only take away vital help during a recession, but would also exacerbate the downturn by requiring program cuts and/or tax increases as the recession worsens.

A highly respected economic forecasting firm, Macroeconomic Advisers, considered the effects of a balanced budget amendment during a period like the recent recession. They described the impact on the economy of cutting spending at such a time as “catastrophic” — leading to depression-like conditions and millions of additional jobs lost. A balanced budget amendment is also likely to jeopardize Social Security and other earned assistance upon which retirees depend.

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Participants hold placards as they mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington D.C. on January 17, 2022

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