Americans need to develop "the guts to understand the (U.S.) Constitution, and the guts to implement its provisions" in forcing a constitutional convention to balance the federal budget, Sen. Orrin Hatch says.

Otherwise, a self-serving Congress will continue to drive the national debt skyward and will never limit spending, he said Saturday.Hatch told participants at a weekend conference that fears about forcing a constitutional convention are unfounded because Congress would pass its own amendment rather than give the authority to states.

During a luncheon speech to the National Conference on a Balanced Budget Amendment in Symphony Hall, Hatch compared congressional spending practices to the classic drunk:

"It cannot stop itself, and no one has found the way to hide the bottle. Once representatives find they can spend taxpayers' money to get votes, there's no way they will break the habit themselves."

Consequently, he said, the states will have to do it for them by having the courage to petition for a constitutional convention. He said doing so is practically without risk because, "I guarantee you, they (Congress) will never let it go to a convention."

The two-day conference, sponsored by Cleon Skousen's National Center for Constitutional Studies, included constitutional scholars and drew more than 300 participants from across the country. One of the purposes of the conference was to gauge how conservatives feel about the prospect of a constitutional convention.

Some conservative groups, including the Eagle Forum, want a balanced budget amendment but oppose forcing a constitutional convention, fearing it would become a free-for-all for groups that want to change the document's basic tenets.

Utah is one of 32 states that have petitioned Congress for a convention. To force such a move, two more state legislatures must do the same. Hatch urged all conservatives to lay aside philosophical differences.

Referring to Article Five of the Constitution, which allows a convention if three-fourths of the states concur, Hatch said, "If you're afraid to use the Constitution, then you don't believe in the Constitution. I don't care what Phyllis Schlafly says I support much of what she does, but she's dead wrong on this one.

"Until we get that 33rd and 34th state, we can kiss a balanced budget amendment goodbye. . . . It's time to quit dividing and get together to do what has to be done and what those knuckleheads in Congress should have done 25 years ago."

Hatch said a balanced budget was such an integral part of the way the Founding Fathers viewed government operation, they didn't include it as a provision. "It's an unwritten part of the Constitution. Only such an amendment can limit present governmental excesses. As for the future, it may be the only way to preserve for our children the options and freedoms we hold dear."