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Balancing Act May Be Ahead For Federal Balanced...

Republicans may have to nix some popular ideas if they want to advance Michigan's push for a federal balanced budget amendment. 

After the House's second committee hearing on the matter Thursday, Democrats said they want to introduce a slew of amendments that would allow a convention of the states to look at some other changes to the U.S. Constitution along with the requirement for a balanced budget. 

According to a list of potential proposals from the House Democrats, the possibilities include an amendment to prohibit flag burning, an amendment to eliminate the Federal Reserve and an amendment to provide more transparency in elections. 

"These are some things that may be good ideas that maybe the Republicans want to get behind," explained Rep. Phil CAVANAGH (D-Redford Twp.), minority vice chair of the House Financial Liability Committee. 

While they may be "good ideas," they could complicate Michigan's role in pushing for a balanced budget amendment. 

That effort is trying to get 34 states to approve requests that the U.S. Congress call a convention of the states specifically to propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. 

If 34 states took that step, a convention of the states may be able to propose an amendment that could be ratified with the approval of 38 states. Then, under the proposals in Michigan, at least, the federal government would be required to make sure its spending in a year doesn't out-pace its revenues. That's unless there's a "national emergency." 

Gov. Rick SNYDER supports the effort. And according to one tally, about 20 states have sent in requests already. 

But because the convention-of-the-states process is relatively new ground, there are questions about how similar the proposals from the states have to be to force the U.S. Congress to call the convention. 

And organizers of the push are trying to alleviate concerns of a "runaway" convention by restricting the subject to a balanced budget amendment. 

Brian KALT, a law professor for Michigan State University, said limiting the scope of the convention could be the biggest problem for the effort. 

And if Michigan's resolutions include other items, like an amendment to prohibit flag burning, things get even murkier. 

But Democrats argued Thursday that if Republicans want to open up the U.S. Constitution for one change, why not look at some other possibilities? 

The list of ideas includes repealing the 16th Amendment, which allows Congress to levy income tax, and proposing an amendment to strengthen the rights of property owners. 

Here are some others: 

- Proposing an amendment to restrict federal regulatory power under the Commerce Clause 

- Proposing an amendment to provide for a presidential line-item veto 

- And proposing an amendment to promote "clean elections." 

"We can't limit it to just this one issue," Cavanagh argued Thursday. "If things are on the table, then we should opine on what we do want our delegates to bring." 

Supporters of the balanced budget proposals, SJR V and HJR CC, argue that the country's deficit and debt are becoming such problems that the states specifically need to intervene. 

Multiple Republicans downplayed the Democrats' amendments Thursday, saying that they could simply reject the amendments and stay focused on the balanced budget idea behind the resolutions. 

The House Financial Liability Committee planned to vote on the resolutions during a meeting this morning. 

But with testimony running long and with the Democrats' large number of amendments to consider, the votes were delayed. 

The committee's chair, Rep. Earl POLESKI (R-Jackson), said votes would likely take place next week. 

During Thursday's meeting, Charles BALLARD, professor of economics at Michigan State University, testified against a convention of the states on a balanced budget amendment. 

He argued that such an amendment could exacerbate economic problems by turning a deep recession into a "catastrophic downturn." 

The problem, according to Ballard, is that if the federal government has to balance its budget during a recession, it would take tax hikes and spending reductions to do so. Both could make the recession worse. 

"It's actually very difficult to balance the budget during a deep downturn," Ballard said. 

If lawmakers want to consider a beneficial amendment request, Ballard pointed to an amendment to end gerrymandering. 

But Ballard also said that the country's debt is a problem. And he said it's very important that lawmakers address it. 

"I don't believe this is the best way to do it," he said. 

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