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GOP lawmakers finish plan for balanced budget convention

Idaho state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, center, officially moves to close a balanced budget planning convention at the state Capitol in Phoenix on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, surrounded by other delegates. Republican lawmakers from 19 states completed a plan Friday that provides an outline on how to run a constitutional convention that would propose a federal balanced budget amendment. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

Idaho state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, center, officially moves to close a balanced budget planning convention at the state Capitol in Phoenix on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, surrounded by other delegates. Republican lawmakers from 19 states completed a plan Friday that provides an outline on how to run a constitutional convention that would propose a federal balanced budget amendment. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

PHOENIX — Republican lawmakers from 19 states completed a plan Friday that provides an outline on how to run a constitutional convention that would propose a federal balanced budget amendment.

The four-day planning session at the Arizona state capitol involved 71 delegates adopting rules, procedures and other technical details of how such a convention would be run. No Democrats attended.

Attendees called the end product a historic effort that sets the stage for a convention of states to propose changes to the Constitution. They call Washington dysfunctional and a convention the only way to force the federal government to address the nation's $20 trillion deficit.

Utah state Sen. Ken Ivory said the nation has deep structural issues, and the only way to fix them is to use the Constitution's own power to push changes through amendments proposed by states at a convention.

"We have a system in disrepair that operates to produce trillion-dollar deficits, to produce mountains of regulations and federal criminalization," Ivory said. "And until we restore that balance and that division in power, we're going to continue to see results that a system in disrepair produces."

A convention is a longshot. One has never successfully been used to propose an amendment, and all 27 amendments that have been adopted were proposed by Congress. But a balanced budget amendment is a core goal of conservative Republicans that have gained growing control of state Legislatures in recent years.

The goal of backers is to eliminate the federal deficit and drive down the national debt. The current federal budget includes spending of about $4 trillion and has a shortfall of nearly $700 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Arizona state Sen. Don Shooter said the deficit can't be eliminated overnight with the adoption of a balanced budget mandate.

"You do it in increments, the same way you eat an elephant, one bite at a time," he said.

A convention that successfully proposes a constitutional amendment has always been seen as a longshot. To call one, 34 state Legislatures would have to petition Congress. If an amendment is proposed, it would need ratification by 38 states.

Shooter and others gathered in Phoenix said they believe the time is right.

"Washington is dysfunctional. Is it going to stop itself?" he said. "This is an intervention."

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This story has been corrected to show that 34 state Legislatures, not 32, must petition Congress for a convention to be called.

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