Do state legislators have more sense than members of Congress? In support of the proposition that they do you could cite the action of Michigan's House of Representatives Thursday. Earlier the state Senate had passed by a 24-14 vote a call for a constitutional convention for the purpose of passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require a balanced budget. Proponents of this amendment claimed to have enough votes in the state House to pass it there too. If they had been right, Michigan would have been the 33rd state to call for the convention -- just one short of the 34 required in the Constitution.
But when the roll was finally called, the result went the other way. On a vote that crossed party lines, the House rejected the convention call by a 56-51 margin. Backers of the amendment have been frustrated once again. Despite the popularity of the idea of forcing a balanced budget, the convention proposal has not picked up a single state in a year in which the legislatures of almost every state have been meeting. But by now most of them have gone home, and Michigan's House Republican leader says he sure isn't going to bring up the issue again.
Why are the amendment's backers having such problems? Because, with the nation poised at the brink of the confusion and uncertainty of a new constitutional convention, politicians are reluctantly abandoning a proposal that is good politics but bad policy. In legislature after legislature this year people have been asking hard questions of the amendment's proponents. How would a convention actually work? Who would attend? What limits if any would there be on their power to approve new constitutional amendments?
Unfortunately, the convention proposal hasn't been conclusively killed, and it's always possible that two legislatures will approve it this year or some time in the future. That puts pressure on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment itself or to adopt some other automatic budget- balancing proposal, such as the Gramm-Rudman- Hollings bill.
State legislators, in the Michigan House and elsewhere, have really faced the issue; evidently they recognize the balanced budget amendment for what it is: a measure that would either be ineffective or harmful, and which in either case would be a constant diversion from real problems the nation faces and Congress might be able to solve. The Constitution already gives Congress -- this Congress, this minute -- all the power it needs to balance the budget. What is lacking is the political will.