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MILLER: Ending deficit sprawl

House and Senate leaders need to unify behind the Balanced Budget Amendment

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Republicans responded swiftly to President Obama's suggestion Wednesday that increasing taxes on private planes would pull the nation out of its $14.3 trillion debt. As Mr. Obama spoke, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was firing back with a press conference advocating the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) as the only real solution to Washington's spending addiction.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, has been spearheading BBA efforts in the Senate for 35 years. He said on Wednesday that this is the first time that all of his GOP colleagues are united. The lower chamber, by contrast, is lagging.

The current versions of the House and Senate BBA legislation agree that spending must not exceed outlays; a two-thirds vote is needed to increase taxes; three-fifths is required to raise the debt limit; and federal spending must be capped at 18 percent of gross domestic product.

Rep. Joe Walsh, Illinois Republican, had introduced the Senate's BBA language, but Judiciary Committee members implemented some of his provisions and not others. The House now requires a three-fifths vote to pass spending bills that are in deficit, while the Senate wants a two-thirds vote. The Senate bill has language saying that only a majority vote is needed for deficit spending during a declared war. The Senate gives no time frame for ratification by the states, but the bill expires seven years after passage.

The Senate GOP is united behind its tougher language. "This is the amendment that puts the proper restraints on government, and we think that it's the one that ultimately will pass," Mr. Hatch told The Washington Times.

Sen. Mike Lee thinks that the House should take up Mr. Walsh's bill now and build momentum. "It is imperative to pass the Senate Republican consensus version of the Balanced Budget Amendment out of the House first, then send it over to us," the Utah freshman said in an interview. "We really need them to do it because they can pass it."

Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, agrees. "The prospects for success will improve dramatically if the House and Senate start working off the same version," he told The Washington Times. The House Republican leadership ought to get serious and follow this advice.

It's unlikely such an amendment will be easier to pass than it is now. The public understands the need to balance the checkbook, so ratification from three-quarters of the states shouldn't be difficult. "I think the states would ratify this so fast our heads would be spinning," said Mr. Hatch.

Unless House Speaker John A. Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor declare they will put an all-out effort into getting this done in a coordinated manner, their words will remain symbolic.

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