Testimony

Using a Compact to Amend the Constitution and Balance the Federal Budget

Written Testimony Provided to the AZ House Federalism & Fiscal Responsibility Committee

My name is Ilya Shapiro. I am a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and the editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review. I am also a member of the advisory council for Compact for America. Before joining Cato, I was a special assistant/advisor to the Multi-National Force in Iraq on rule of law issues and practiced international, political, and commercial litigation. I have provided testimony to Congress and state legislatures and, as coordinator of Cato’s amicus brief program, filed more than 100 “friend of the court” briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court. I lecture regularly on a variety of constitutional issues on behalf of the Federalist Society and other groups, am a member of the Legal Studies Institute’s board of visitors at The Fund for American Studies, was an inaugural Washington Fellow at the National Review Institute, and have been an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Law School. Before entering private practice, I clerked for Judge E. Grady Jolly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. I hold an A.B. from Princeton University, an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.

I am an ardent support of the compact approach to the Article V process because this method of constitutional amendment makes the path to state-initiated constitutional reform quicker, easier, and more legally certain. It allows states to agree in advance to everything they control in the amendment process in a single bill passed once the state legislature. It allows Congress to fulfill its entire role in the amendment process in a single resolution passed once. When time is of the essence and the country is in peril, this approach would allow constitutional change to occur within one legislative year. I know of no other approach to Article V that can do this with the certainty, efficiency, and safety that is offered by the compact approach.

Above all, I believe that the compact approach serves to minimize the risk of litigation, because only this method of constitutional amendment requires that state legislatures and Congress agree on all aspects of the process up front. It is also important to me that the compact was able to address each and every one of the concerns that have been raised over the past 30 years by the Eagle Forum.

I have previously written about my support of the Balanced Budget Amendment that is the payload that is carried by the Compact. Unlike the recent and continuous brinkmanship spurred by the statutory debt limit, the Compact for America is designed to force Washington to prepare a budget that makes the case for more debt long before the midnight hour arrives. It requires the president to start designating impoundments when spending exceeds 98% of the debt limit and then requires Congress to override those impoundments within 30 days with alternative cuts if it disagrees. By forcing both the executive and legislative branches to show their cards long in advance of the constitutional debt limit, this compact-turned-BBA would ensure that no game of chicken holds the country hostage. Because our debt problem is primarily a spending problem, the CFA would also require a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress for any general tax increase. The proposed amendment would thereby ensure that any new tax burden assumed to pay down the debt would make our tax code flatter, fairer, and far more conducive to economic growth—which is the best way to prevent both debt spending and tax increases in the long run. The Compact for America could permanently and structurally bridge future fiscal cliffs with a principled compromise that’s been poll-tested to get at least 38 states on board.

Thank you for giving this very important matter your attention. I thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony to the Georgia House Judiciary Committee.