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House backs convention to mandate federal balanced budget

JACKSON — Mississippi could become the third state to sign onto a plan for a nationwide constitutional convention to force the federal government to balance its budget and require states’ permission to increase national debt.

The House voted 68-51 after a contentious debate where Republicans cut off the discussion over the loud objections of Democrats. The measure was held for more debate, but is likely to move to Gov. Phil Bryant for his approval or veto.

House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, warned that the United States is only years away from being insolvent and unable to borrow.

“It is essentially the situation Greece was in a couple of years ago,” Snowden said. “I have no confidence whatsoever that with a Republican president, this would be addressed. Congress cannot solve the problem. The interest on our debt is unsustainable.”

Opponents say the plan is poorly conceived. They note Mississippi depends on federal subsidies and question provisions allowing a sales tax to replace federal income taxes. Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, said he doubted that the bill could limit delegates to a single up-or-down vote on the prewritten amendment. He said it would be a mistake to tie down Congress with the strictures in the bill.

“We don’t need to be enshackled by a feeble document that challenges our rights and liberties,” Reynolds said.

The plan is part of a nationwide effort by conservative groups including the Goldwater Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council to get three-fourths of states to call such a convention. It seeks to limit the conclave to a single vote on the balanced budget proposal written in the law, and to provide for automatic approval of the pre-agreed amendment by the states that adopt the compact. Alaska and Georgia have adopted the compact so far.

Under typical plans for a convention, states would have to act twice, to call a convention and then ratify proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“This is the only vote you’ll ever need to take on this,” Snowden said.

The plan would enshrine a constitutional debt ceiling, require approval by a majority of states to allow the debt ceiling to rise and require tax increases to receive a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress.

Democrats had prepared a number of amendments, all of which could have been fatal to the bill if they passed because the plan is designed to be approved word-for-word by all the states. Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson, had also demanded that the bill be read aloud, as House rules permit. Before Democrats could present their amendments, Rep. William Shirley, R-Quitman, moved to cut off debate.

“If we’re going to read bills, we’re not going to debate them,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton.

That measure passed, leaving Democrats fuming. When Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, wasn’t recognized to present his amendment, he continued shouting at Gunn, who threatened to have him escorted from the chamber. About 20 House Democrats held a news conference later to complain about being cut off.

 

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