07.13.2011 0

Control debt, pass balanced budget amendment

NRD Editor’s Note: The following column appeared in today’s USA Today:

By Rep. Eric Cantor and Rep. Jim Jordan – Our Constitution has endured the passage of time with remarkably few changes, being amended just 27 times in 223 years. Unfortunately, America’s debt limit has not been nearly so stable. Since World War II, Congress has increased the limit on the national debt 69 times. The reasons behind this disparity tell an important story.

Let’s begin with the debt limit. President Reagan once observed that “a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” Once created, government programs build constituencies of special interests determined to keep the money flowing, whether or not the program is effective. In our time in Congress, we have placed many such programs on the chopping block, only to see pressure from the spending lobby win the day.

While the federal government has consistently collected revenue of about 18% of U.S. economic output, federal spending has consistently been even higher. The debt resulting from these budget deficits builds up until the debt limit is reached. And rather than fight the spending lobby, politicians have taken the easy route of raising the limit without cutting spending.

Rein in the debt

The relative scarcity of constitutional changes stems from the high hurdles for success. Constitutional amendments require the support of two-thirds of the House and the Senate and then three-fourths of the states. Because of these same requirements, successful amendments tend to stay in place. Only one, Prohibition, has ever been repealed. The moral of this story is clear. Anyone who hopes to rein in the debt and make Washington live within its means should support amending the Constitution to require a balanced budget.

Always a concern, the national debt has grown into a malignant cancer on our economy. Attacking this cancer at its root means cutting spending. If we do not, the U.S. will face a job-killing debt crisis within just a few years.

Promises, promises

Near-term spending cuts are necessary to alter the course, but they will not be enough without long-term changes. Likewise, promises of cuts 10 years from now mean little without a way to enforce them. The only way to truly guarantee delivery from future politicians is if the Constitution demands it. That’s why the House will vote next Wednesday on a balanced budget amendment that would require supermajorities in both chambers to run a deficit, raise the debt ceiling, raise taxes and spend more than 18% of GDP.

With the balanced budget movement gaining momentum, members of the spending lobby want to argue that Congress and the president already have the ability to control spending. Ability and discipline are not the same. If Washington actually had the discipline to live within its means over the long term, every American citizen would not owe $46,000 toward the national debt.

Today, this massive borrowing is taking a toll on our economy. As businesses defend against the higher taxes, inflation and borrowing costs likely to follow from the coming debt crisis, they take fewer risks and create fewer jobs. By cutting spending and balancing the budget, we can alleviate such fears and put the private sector back on offense.

The importance of the upcoming votes cannot be overstated. House and Senate passage of the Balanced Budget Amendment will make reckless borrowing a thing of the past and will ensure that our children enjoy futures full of opportunity. Let Democrats and Republicans join together to do the right thing and make a real difference for the future.

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., is House majority leader and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is chairman of the Republican Study Committee

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