- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The upcoming vote on a balanced budget amendment, authored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republicans, may be the most essential policy shift in a generation. For conservatives and anyone concerned about the economic underpinnings of our country, this moment is a time for action.

Under our current pattern of spending, America’s debt increases by nearly $4 billion each day. That’s right - $4 billion - every single day.

This week, as that debt clock continues whirling dizzily in the wrong direction, Congress will have one opportunity in the final days of 2011 to turn back the hands.

The vote on raising the debt ceiling in August required a vote on a balanced budget amendment, and the Senate is expected to take the issue up Wednesday. Ultimately, the Senate vote will tell Americans exactly how serious our leaders are about securing our economic future.

Without a sincere spending reduction that includes a balanced budget amendment, we will never eliminate our existing $15 trillion debt. In fact, a more immediate challenge will be to reduce the additional $10 trillion debt that is coming in the next 10 years. While much of the discussion has centered on existing debt, little has been said about the additional trillions we are incurring imminently. Even with the $1.2 trillion automatic cut, we will barely make a dent in this forthcoming debt if the country stays the current course.

If that wasn’t bad enough, neither President Obama nor Senate Democrats have proposed a budget in more than 2 1/2 years. Since that time, our national debt has grown by $3.6 trillion. A business operated in such a reckless manner would have shuttered its doors long ago. A balanced budget amendment would ensure this never happens again.

It is critical that a recorded vote be taken on an amendment that includes important safeguards for taxpayers and incorporates elements of the Cut, Cap and Balance plan our organization endorsed earlier this year. The only amendment that satisfies these requirements is S.J. Res. 10, the Hatch-Lee balanced budget amendment. All 47 Republicans in the Senate have co-sponsored this resolution.

The amendment directs the president to submit a balanced budget to Congress annually, requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to raise taxes, includes a provision preventing the courts from requiring taxes to balance the budget, requires spending to be held to 18 percent of gross domestic product, and can only be waived if there’s a declaration of war or if a serious military conflict is declared by a three-fifths vote of both houses.

The Senate can make this amendment even stronger by eliminating potential conflicts and clarifying confusing elements, such as sections that calculate the spending numbers using different methods. Resolving these ambiguities will steel against interference by the courts.

With these improvements, S.J. Res. 10 remains the best alternative to other versions, purported balanced budget fixes that could be easily ignored by a future Congress. One of those versions is sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat. Well-intentioned or not, the weak Udall amendment would empower the very behavior we seek to change.

First, Mr. Udall’s amendment would lead to tax increases. It would allow a simple majority of each house to balance the budget by raising taxes while requiring zero spending reductions. Second, it isn’t realistic about the federal government’s obligations, evening failing to acknowledge the cost of Social Security - one of the largest entitlement programs in the federal government. Third, the amendment could be too easily waived by Congress. Finally, the Udall amendment is focused more on politics than balancing the budget. The measure ludicrously amends the U.S. Constitution to prohibit net tax reductions to anyone making more than $1 million per year if there is a budget deficit.

The Republican leadership should demand an up or down decision on Hatch-Lee, forcing a vote if they must.

Opponents of the balanced budget amendment assert we should raise taxes instead of cutting spending. But raising taxes would only worsen the economy and kill jobs. Some say it would cut essential programs. What they are really saying is that bloated assistance programs ought to be maintained and big government ought to get bigger, regardless of our ability to pay for it.

These are scare tactics aimed at railroading tough but necessary choices. What we cannot afford is saddling future generations with a debt so massive that it ensures America’s best days are behind her.

A balanced budget amendment would create the foundation of a fiscally sound nation - something we can’t claim today. If congressional leaders seize this moment, all future spending decisions would begin the same way families make financial choices around the kitchen table: How are we going to pay for this, is this necessary, and is this the best choice to be made with these limited dollars?

The Hatch-Lee balanced budget amendment presents our long-term solution to control spending, and the Senate should pass it. Given the opportunity, the gridlock that engulfs Washington and the precarious and ailing state of our nation’s economic well being, there is no doubt the states would welcome the opportunity to ratify it.

Al Cardenas is chairman of the American Conservative Union.

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