Congress, West Virginia Legislature

House Judiciary approves resolution for Congress to call Article V convention for fiscal responsibility amendment

MORGANTOWN – House Judiciary Committee members appeared to have about as much fun as allowed by law on Friday approving yet another resolution demanding Congress call a convention of states for constitutional amendments.

The debate was sprinkled with rock and pop song quotes and frequent chuckles. But there was also a new twist, and the discussion took a serious turn at the end.

HCR 57 demands Congress call an Article V convention “to propose amendments to the Constitution of the United States to create fiscal responsibility by and within the federal government.”

Committee counsel Brian Casto reminded the delegates the full Legislature adopted HCR 31 in 2022, which included a fiscal responsibility element along with Congressional term limits and limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.

So for this one, he said, “in that sense it’s somewhat duplicative, but it’s a belt and suspenders. If you adopt this, you’re, in the words of the great Johnny Rotten, saying, ‘We mean it, man.’”

There were questions on whether a redundant request would be counterproductive. Casto said it’s really up to Congress, but there’s no harm in trying.

HCR 57 also calls on the state to join with other states to file a lawsuit to force Congress to act. Asked who would do that for West Virginia, Casto said it would fall to the attorney general.

The twist came in the form of a proposed amendment by Delegate Brandon Steele, for Congress to consider and propose an amendment to repeal the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax and was ratified in 1913.

Steele offered the next song (almost) quote: “As Olivia Newton John once said, ‘Let’s get fiscal.’”

Steele said the tax was originally a 1% tax on the richest 1%, but it’s ballooned. “Our constituents are the ones footing the bill.”

He added later that state lost their identities when the federal government started taking income tax. “That’s when we became homogenized. … The wealth and work product of the everyday citizen was taken and redistributed how some rich men north of Richmond wanted it to go.”

And the next song reference: With this addition to the resolution, Judiciary is “the first elected body in the nation to do what Rage Against the Machine said: ‘Take the power back.’ Its best in our citizens’ hands, not the bureaucrats’.”

Lead sponsor Delegate Bill Ridenour, R-Jefferson, pondered Steele’s amendment for a moment, then said, “The hell with it, let’s go for it.”

It was approved in a 21-0 roll call vote followed by lots of laughs.

Ridenour also proposed an amendment, striking the word “almost” from this sentence: “Whereas, the national debt has increased from $850 billion in 1979 to almost $34 trillion today.”

He said the debt is now more than $34.4 trillion. “We’re dancing about as fast as you could possibly get and not reach the moon in a couple of minutes.”

It was approved in a unanimous voice vote.

The tone turned more serious when the discussion shifted to approving the amended resolution.

Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, said, “I would agree that our fiscal situation in this country is both deadly and urgent,” but the resolution added nothing to 2022’s HCR 31. But Steele’s amendment gave it new relevance.

Delegate Bryan Ward, R-Hardy, voiced full support of the whole thing. “We’re leaving our next generations with no opportunity for hope. We’re concerned about our republic and this is what we can do.”

Debates on Article V conventions in past years have been weighted with angst over the possibility of a runaway convention, where the delegates ignore the call and do what they please, to the point of perhaps scrapping the whole Constitution.

The prime example of that always cited is the 1787 convention to amend the Articles of Confederation, which was conducted in secret and led to a whole new Constitution and form of government.

There was no prolonged angst this time, just a couple questions about it from Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia. For one, the resolution sometimes says “amendments” and other times “amendment.”

Casto suggested the different words may make allowance for the possibility of more than one amendment to accomplish the single purpose. Also, the amendments would be “specifically regarding fiscal responsibility.”

In the roll call vote to adopt the resolution, Hansen offered the only opposing vote. It goes next to the full House. Because it’s a concurrent resolution, it will also have to go to the Senate for final adoption.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution establishes two ways to amend the Constitution. First, two-thirds of both houses of Congress can propose amendments. Second, two-thirds (34) of the 50 states can appeal to Congress to call a convention of states to propose amendments. HCR 57 takes the second approach.