Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long tells HPI that the next step in a state-drive constitutional convention which could establish a federal balanced budget amendment will take place in Indianapolis next June. Long is shown here in the Indiana Senate chambers after Gov. Pence's State of the State address. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long tells HPI that the next step in a state-drive constitutional convention which could establish a federal balanced budget amendment will take place in Indianapolis next June. Long is shown here in the Indiana Senate chambers after Gov. Pence's State of the State address. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)

INDIANAPOLIS – The next step in a state-driven constitutional convention to force a federal balanced budget will take place in Indianapolis next June, Senate President Pro Tempore David Long has told Howey Politics Indiana.

"We are going to meet again," Long said less than two months after he helped forge the Mount Vernon Assembly at the Virginia home of President George Washington. "We'll have a majority and minority member from each legislative chamber in each state," Long said of a second conference.

Last December, about 100 legislators from 32 states met at Mount Vernon to discuss the constitutional convention which would set in motion amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This would come under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

Long joined Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Kapenga, Ohio Speaker Pro Tem Matt Huffman, Oklahoma State Rep. Gary Banz and Kansas State Sen. Caryn Tyson in calling for the summit last October. In a letter written to legislators in all 50 states, Long and the others explained, "Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives states equal standing with Congress to propose constitutional amendments. The framers of the Constitution included the state option to address issues of abuse or inaction by the federal government. In light of the federal government’s struggle to effectively execute the will of the people combined with the imbalance of power that currently exists between the federal and state governments, we respectfully request your state’s participation in a bipartisan gathering of state legislators to be known as the Mount Vernon Assembly. It is our hope that all 50 states will be represented at this meeting."

This movement comes at a time when President Obama's Gallup approval rating stands at 40%, and numerous polls have put Congressional approval at historic lows, some in single digits. Despite the historic numbers, the White House and Congress preside over a bloated, unbalanced federal budget, towering national debt, while the White House and Congressional Democrats installed the Affordable Care Act on straight party line votes in March of 2010. Washington has been unable to forge immigration reform, forcing states like Indiana to address what many Hoosier legislators see as a national security issue.

With Congress and the White House unable to reach across party lines to forge a course that would bring fiscal sanity to the nation, the demographic bulge known as the "Baby Boom generation" is retiring to the tune of 10,000 a day, potentially swamping entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels described it as the "red menace." Appearing before CPAC in 2011, Daniels said, "I refer, of course, to the debts our nation has amassed for itself over decades of indulgence. It is the new Red Menace, this time consisting of ink. We can debate its origins endlessly and search for villains on ideological grounds, but the reality is pure arithmetic. No enterprise, small or large, public or private, can remain self-governing, let alone successful, so deeply in hock to others as we are about to be."

Long said that a chief concern would be a "runaway" Constitutional convention where an array of hot button social issues might pop up. "We'll have to structure how things come together," Long explained. "We have to be able to control it. We want to keep it to one or two issues." Those issues, the Fort Wayne Republican said, would include a balanced budget amendment, and limiting the taxation power of the federal government "as defined by Obamacare," Long said.

Rep. Buzz Brockway, a Georgia Republican, said after the December conference, "There are a lot of unanswered questions. How do you organize it? What do you when you actually get there, and if you get that far, how do you get other states involved?”

Following the December meeting, Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert explained, “Overall, it was historic, and I think it is a beacon for the rest of this nation to know the state legislators, of which there are 7,383, are standing together to tell the 535 in Washington, ‘You are no longer doing your job. You haven't passed a budget in a number of years. You allow the President to step outside of his executive authority and are not holding him accountable. You're drowning the nation in debt, and we want it to stop.’”

Long authored Senate Joint Resolution 18 in 2013 which made an application to Congress to call a Constitutional Convention. He pulled the legislation before it came up for a vote. He introduced two companion measures, SB 224 and 225, which outlined how to appoint delegates and their duties.

In the call for the Mount Vernon Assembly, Long and other legislators explained, "The purpose of the Assembly is to (1) convene in a politically pure environment comprising only currently serving state legislators, free from the influence of outside organizations; and (2) discuss and draft an agenda for a Convention of the States for the sole purpose of writing the rules that would govern future meetings of that legislative body, including any Article V Conventions for Proposing Amendments."

The legislators added: The purpose of the Assembly is not to promote any Article V subject matter. We believe establishing rules for future Conventions of the States will (1) cultivate the communication and interaction of state governments, fostering a rebalance of power under our federalist system; and (2) ensure that a prudent and cautious process is put in place to govern all future deliberations of the body; and (3) eliminate the distraction around the process of an Article V Convention, thus allowing any Article V application to be analyzed solely on the merits of its subject matter."

There are two methods for amending the U.S. Constitution. The first is for a bill to pass both houses of Congress, by a two-thirds majority in each. Once the bill has passed both houses, it goes on to the states. This is the route taken by all current amendments. Congress will normally put a time limit (typically seven years) for the bill to be approved as an amendment.

The second method prescribed is for a constitutional convention to be called by two-thirds of the legislatures of the states, and for that convention to propose one or more amendments. These amendments are then sent to the states to be approved by three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions. This route has never been taken.