Feb 01 2011

Birmingham News: Forcing fiscal discipline on Congress

The Birmingham News

Today, the national debt tops $14 tril­lion. In 1980, our total debt was $909 billion. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the budget deficit this year will be the highest ever — $1.5 tril­lion — and the national debt will equal a staggering 104 percent of the Gross Do­mestic Product by 2012.

Bailouts, stimulus spending, govern­ment takeovers of private industry and costly new programs have consumed and overwhelmed the federal budget. In the past seven months alone, the debt has skyrocketed $1 trillion. Moreover, es­timates project the debt will accelerate to more than $25 trillion by 2021. A consti­tutional amendment to balance the bud­get is the only certain mechanism that will break the cycle of deficit spending. It would provide sorely needed financial restraint and stability to our nation.

The amendment to the Constitution I will introduce today is simple. It requires that the United States not spend more money than it receives in revenue, ex­cept in times of war or when suspended by a three-fifths vote of both houses of Congress.

Only a constitutional amendment would match and remedy the scale of the crisis we face. It would not only enshrine fiscal responsibility as part of our na­tional character, but also safeguard against the whims and weaknesses of fu­ture Congresses as we deal with this long-term problem.

American taxpayers are rightly infuri­ated by the federal government’s disre­gard for the same economic principles and realities that govern every house­hold and business budget. The rever­berations of our fiscal recklessness have not only cost American jobs, but have also weakened our nation’s standing on the global stage. Unfortunately, until the federal government is required to spend only the amount of money it takes in, I fear the Treasury will soon write IOU’s it cannot redeem. That is unacceptable.

Something must be done.

The scale and pace of the problem have increased rapidly under President Barack Obama’s administration. During the past session of Congress, the debt grew more than any other session in his­tory. In fact, Obama’s federal budget last year alone proposed more additional federal debt by the end of 2015 than we accumulated in every prior presidency from George Washington through George W. Bush combined. The current level puts each American’s share of the national debt at $45,928. This is unsus­tainable and reckless. We hear on a daily basis the rhetoric about tough choices, sacrifice and aus­terity. We need to hear more about basic mathematics. In fiscal year 2010, the to­tal interest paid on Treasury debt securi­ties was $413 billion. The CBO projects the government’s annual spending on net interest will more than double be­tween 2011 and 2021 as a share of the Gross Domestic Product.

In simple terms, it is the interest on the national debt that makes our future particularly unstable. Anyone who has ever fallen behind on credit card pay­ments while continuing to amass debt understands this principle in very real terms: The more debt one accumulates, the more interest one must pay, the harder it is to pay down the principle.

A balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution is the solution to a perpet­ual problem many lawmakers do not have the political will to otherwise fix. I believe my legislation will finally put our nation on a path toward paying off our national debt.

The adoption of an amendment that would require the federal government to do what every American already has to do — balance the checkbook — is exactly what this country needs to prove Wash­ington is serious about accomplishing this feat. A balanced-budget amendment is a promise to the American people the government will spend their hard­earned tax dollars responsibly.

Opponents of a balanced-budget amendment say it is a drastic measure that is unwarranted at this time. They are correct that it is a bold measure. It is also absolutely necessary. I have introduced this legislation each Congress since 1987. In light of our current fiscal crisis, if now is not the time to enact it, when is?