12.31.2010 0

Rethinking a Balanced Budget Amendment

  • On: 01/27/2011 09:41:02
  • In: Fiscal Responsibility
  • ALG Editor’s Note: In the following featured oped, Senators Orrin Hatch and John Cornyn make the case for a balanced budget/spending cap amendment:

    By Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator John Cornyn

    During the economic crisis, families across America tightened their belts, balanced their budgets and lived within their means. The same can’t be said of Washington, where runaway spending has pushed our nation’s debt to dangerous levels, forcing our children and grandchildren to foot the bill.

    In November, the American people sent Washington a message: Get our fiscal house in order by cutting spending and the debt, so that our nation finally lives within its means — just like we do.

    We couldn’t agree more.

    Our national debt, now more than $14 trillion, threatens our economic future, reduces our global competitiveness and even jeopardizes our national security. That is more than $45,000 for every man, woman and child in America.

    The situation is getting worse. Under the Obama administration, federal spending has reached 25 percent of our nation’s economic output. Only during World War II was federal spending a larger part of the economy.

    In the past two years, our national debt has increased more than it did under every other president from George Washington to George W. Bush combined. It could reach an astonishing 90 percent of the gross domestic product in less than a decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and the government will spend almost $1 trillion just paying the interest.

    Regrettably, Washington has proved that it won’t solve this crisis on its own. Every time Washington has raised taxes and cut spending in the name of deficit reduction, the tax increases remained, but spending did not stay down. Instead, higher taxes were used to fuel more spending.

    The responsible way to respond to the American people and to the fiscal crisis we face is through a constitutional balanced-budget amendment. That’s what we’re offering now — with a measure that will set strict spending limits, while requiring that the president submit a balanced budget to Congress each year.

    If every state — except Vermont — and countries like Germany and Switzerland are required to balance their budgets, it’s more than past time Washington does as well.

    Our proposed amendment caps federal spending at 20 percent of GDP — down from the current 25 percent. It prohibits tax increases unless approved by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate. Setting strict restrictions on tax increases is a necessary first step in stopping the spending that fuels an almost unending expansion in the federal government.

    It also gives Congress the authority to waive these restrictions if the United States is at war or engaged in military action that threatens our national security.

    This balanced-budget amendment is not a new idea. In 1997, when it was last considered, 66 senators, from both sides of the aisle, supported it. It is our hope that this effort will again receive bipartisan support.

    The Constitution belongs to the people, and it is their tool for directing how government should operate. Congress should promptly approve this proposed amendment and send it to the states, so the American people can impose some much-needed fiscal discipline on Washington.

    Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) serves on the Finance and Judiciary committees. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) serves on the Finance and Budget committees.

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