Feb 14 2013
The last time Congress was close to passing legislation that required the federal government to balance its budget the national debt stood at $5.3 trillion. Since then, the national debt has nearly tripled to $16.4 trillion.
Both parties in Washington share in the blame. Republicans and Democrats have controlled the presidency and each house of Congress during the massive expansion of our national debt. And although each side talks about fiscal responsibility, spending reductions, and eliminating our deficit, very few in Washington are willing to do anything about it.
Each week provides a new example of Washington's inability to make even the smallest bit of progress. Last week, I attempted to cut just one-half of one percent ($6.3 billion) in total federal spending for the year in order to pay for funding to help disaster relief victims. The vote failed as 62 senators from both parties opposed cutting the tiniest fraction of spending.
Over the last two years, the Senate has voted repeatedly to waive spending limits it imposed on itself. The recent "fiscal cliff" deal, again supported by both parties, postponed mandatory spending cuts while raising taxes on every hardworking American.
In 2011, 60 senators opposed a measure that cut just $10 billion from a spending bill that cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Last year, 70 senators refused to reduce slightly the price tag of a government program that actually pays people not to use their land.
Further, three senators, including myself, introduced budgets last year that balanced the books within the next decade. Bipartisan majorities rejected them all.
As we have seen with the failure of self-imposed, statutory spending limits, we cannot rely on laws that can be waived with a simple majority. That's why we need to enact a permanent structural spending restraint that will bind future Congresses.
I have submitted legislation (S.J.Res. 1) to amend the Constitution to require the federal government to spend no more than it takes in each year. It limits total federal spending to a level just above the historical average of total revenue.
The amendment requires the support of two-thirds of both the Senate and the House to run a deficit in any fiscal year. This amendment would also require the same threshold for raising the debt limit.
My amendment would not require a single cut in spending today, but it would force future Congresses to plan a path to balance. It would also foster a much-needed dialogue about our national priorities and what kind of government Americans want. The process of ratifying the amendment in three-quarters of the states would raise the voice of every citizen, as well as provide a reasonable glide path for Congress to make the necessary spending reforms. For good measure, Congress would have an additional year post-ratification to ensure the budget is balanced.
Only in Washington is proper fiscal management a foreign concept. Individuals, families, and businesses all face serious consequences if they run up too much debt. Forty-nine states, including Utah, have some formal requirement to balance their budgets, and cash-strapped local governments constantly make tough choices as they set priorities. It is time that we require Washington to do the same.
Utah has been a leader in calling for the federal government to get its fiscal house in order. In 2011, the state legislature passed a resolution in favor of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Our fiscal mess is a bipartisan problem caused by a dysfunctional system that afflicts Democrats, Republicans, liberals, and conservatives. To fix it we need a neutral solution that forces all of Washington to comply regardless of who is in power.
We can make progress or we can make excuses. Washington has run out of excuses. It's time for the people to make progress.