MILLER: The balanced budget dream

Constitutional amendment would permanently change how Washington operates

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Under a law that just took effect, Barack Obama will be the first president required to send Congress a budget that balances at some point in the future. Since that point isn’t likely to be in anyone’s lifetime, Republicans once again are looking to a constitutional amendment to impose restraint.

A firm limit is needed as our debt exceeds $16.5 trillion and will grow as Mr. Obama adamantly refuses to turn away from his tax-and-spend ways. All 45 Senate Republicans joined together in introducing a balanced budget amendment on the day after the president’s State of the Union address.

“While the tendency in Washington is to eternally kick the can down the road, most Americans understand we’re at the end of that road,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, the lead sponsor of the bill, told The Washington Times. “Now is the moment for the president and Democrats in Congress to join us and force Washington to follow the lead of working families and small businesses and balance its checkbook.”

The Senate legislation would require the budget to be balanced (with limited exceptions); force the president to submit a balanced budget; limit outlays to 18 percent of gross domestic product; and establish that both houses need a three-fifths vote to raise taxes or increase the debt limit.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte has sponsored House versions of the bill over the past six years. “I think each Congress should have to vote on this. The American people haven’t lost their support for it. It has strong support in a bipartisan way,” the Virginia Republican told The Washington Times in an interview. “The Congress is definitely not up to speed with the general public who have to live within their own means and expect the government to do the same.”

Mr. Goodlatte introduced a version mirroring the Senate language that attracts more conservative support because it discourages Congress from just raising taxes to pay for higher spending. He also introduced a simpler version requiring total spending not exceed receipts (with a war-time exception). The latter version passed the House and came within a single vote of clearing the Senate in 1997.

Two years ago, a balanced budget amendment was tacked onto the debt-ceiling deal to pick up conservative support. It received 261 bipartisan votes in the House, but it still fell short of the two-thirds required for passage.

“I’m disappointed that the Democratic leadership whipped against it last time,” said Mr. Goodlatte, who took over this year as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the proposal. “We know that with that opposition, we still have a lot of work to do. But we’re not backing away.”

Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina helped attract their colleagues’ support last time, and have again signed on as cosponsors.

Forty-nine of the 50 states have their own balanced budget requirements (Vermont does not have it in its state constitution, but abides by it anyway). No matter which party controls the purse strings in Washington, spending keeps going up.

The only way to put an end to the recklessness is to change the Constitution to enforce responsibility just as every family and business must do.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.


© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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