- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Liberals around town are freaked out because House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, told Wall Street leaders Monday that a hike in the debt ceiling would have to be accompanied by government spending cuts that exceed the amount of extra debt. That’s not the kind of thing the left, which wants every taxpayer dime to stay in Washington, wants to hear - but big spenders may have no choice but to listen.

The public debt now exceeds $14.3 trillion, the Treasury is empty, and after next week, it’ll be nearly impossible to issue new debt without a vote of Congress. Such a vote ought not to happen unless major budget reforms put an end to the current, unsustainable spending spree in Washington. Fortunately, the Republican congressional leadership is looking for the best way to force Washington to spend only what it takes in from tax revenue over the long haul.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, wants immediate cuts in spending before putting to a vote any long-term budget reforms. “All options are on the table when it comes to the debt limit negotiations - except tax hikes,” Mr. Cantor’s press secretary, Laena Fallon, told The Washington Times. “That includes consideration of a Balanced Budget Amendment, which we may bring forward in the House for a stand-alone vote. That said, Leader Cantor has made clear that we must achieve real and immediate spending cuts in order to raise the debt limit.”

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, has reintroduced a version of the Balanced Budget Amendment that came within a single Senate vote of passage in 1995 as part of the “Contract with America.” The new resolution has 221 cosponsors, including 13 Democrats. “I am pleased that a majority of the members of the House of Representatives are supporting my legislation,” Mr. Goodlatte told Emily Miller of The Washington Times. “We must make the tough decisions necessary to balance our budget and pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would ensure that Congress curtails its spending on an annual basis regardless of which party is in control.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has united all 47 members of his caucus behind a “consensus Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” Mr. McConnell wants a vote on the measure before a vote on boosting the debt ceiling. The Senate version sets the spending cap at 18 percent of gross domestic product and requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers to pass spending bills which exceed revenue. The Senate bill would require a three-fifths vote of Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

Some fiscal conservatives are concerned that a Balanced Budget Amendment would drive up taxes with a Congress chronically unable to cut spending. The House doesn’t address the issue of tax increases, but the Senate version requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers for any hike.

Forty-nine states have constitutional requirements forcing their legislatures to stay within the budget restraints. Americans are feeling the unprecedented pinch of government profligacy, and awareness of Washington’s spending problem has never been greater. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner estimates action on the debt ceiling would have to take place in August to avoid default, so Republicans have a unique opportunity to push for a permanent reform of the federal spending process. Mr. Boehner, Mr. Cantor and Mr. McConnell need to strike while the iron is hot.