Even in his sunset years, Ronald Reagan understood too well that Congress will never tie its own hands when it comes to debt spending. Lamenting the repeated failure of Congress to propose a Balanced Budget Amendment, Reagan wrote on May 23, 1994:
We can’t depend on Congress to discipline itself . . . we must rely on the states to force Congress to act on our amendment. Fortunately, our Nation’s Founders gave us the means to amend the Constitution through action of state legislatures . . . . That is the only strategy that will work.
Reagan knew the only practical option for limiting federal debt spending was for the states to advance a Balanced Budget Amendment by convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution —not because it would be easy, but because Washington would never do it on its own. Reagan focused on a BBA not because he was a bean counter, but because he knew dispelling the illusion of limitless resources created by limitless debt spending was essential to restraining the federal government to its proper functions. And yet, decades of failed attempts have given rise to doubts over whether the states will ever successfully use their ultimate power under Article V to reform the federal government. It is time to dispel those doubts.
With the Compact for America, it has finally become feasible for the states to fix the national debt. The Compact for America is an agreement among the states to advance and ratify a pre-defined Balanced Budget Amendment. Although Congress will have a role in blessing the Compact for it to work as designed, the necessary resolution will only require simple majorities of each house of Congress, instead of the two-thirds otherwise required for a direct amendment proposal. Once three-fourths of the states join the Compact, this congressional blessing will set in motion a fully regulated convention of state governors, which will have the job of deliberating over and voting up or down the specific Balanced Budget Amendment the Compact proposes. If the convention approves the Balanced Budget Amendment, it will become the 28th Amendment.
In short, the Compact transforms the amendment by convention process into a “turn-key” operation that would be the rough equivalent of a ballot measure for the states. Rather than the 100+ state and federal enactments needed for the ordinary amendment by convention process to work (including 34 state applications, one congressional call, 26+ delegate appointments, one congressional ratification referral, and 38 state ratifications), the Compact would only need 39 enactments—one congressional blessing plus adoption by 38 states. It would thereby cut the lobbying time and resources needed for the Article V amendment process by more than 60 percent.
With the Compact for America, we can finally win one for the Gipper. And with the gross federal debt already in excess of 100 percent of GDP, we must.