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Published January 19, 2011, 08:10 AM

ND amendment would restrict federal debt increases

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — States should have power to block an increase in the federal debt limit, says an Edinburg senator who is advocating a U.S. constitutional amendment that would allow state legislatures to vote on the issue.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — States should have power to block an increase in the federal debt limit, says an Edinburg senator who is advocating a U.S. constitutional amendment that would allow state legislatures to vote on the issue.

GOP state Sen. Curtis Olafson's resolution asks Congress to call a federal constitutional convention, which would propose the amendment for potential ratification by the states.

The amendment itself would require the approval of a majority of state legislatures to raise the federal debt ceiling, Olafson said. It is now $14.3 trillion, and Congress is debating whether to increase it.

"We all have to acknowledge that the debt has increased under the control of both parties," Olafson said. "I believe that it is so serious that it is an imminent threat to the very sovereignty of our country."

Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., said the resolution is being offered in at least six states.

North Dakota's Legislature is the first to hold a committee hearing on the proposal, Dranias said. The North Dakota Senate's Judiciary Committee reviewed the resolution Wednesday, but took no immediate action on it.

One committee member, Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, said she was concerned a constitutional convention would go beyond consideration of a single amendment.

Olafson and Dranias said they believed the convention could be limited to a single subject if the resolutions approved by state legislatures insisted upon that.

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the authority to call a constitutional convention if 34 of the 50 state legislatures demand one. Any proposed amendments then must be ratified by at least 38 states to take effect.

The amendment would give states a voice in federal debt debates, Dranias said.

"It is policy neutral. You don't have to agree on what the solution is to not increasing the debt," Dranias said before the Senate Judiciary hearing. "You can be for tax increases. You can be for spending cuts."

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