If you want to see how badly this country needs a balanced budget amendment, just tune into C-SPAN and watch the Senate sometime. There, you’ll see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the chamber’s most powerful Democrat, complaining about how “mean-spirited” it would be to cut funding for a cowboy poetry festival in his home state of Nevada.
Right now, Republicans and Democrats are wrangling over whether to trim $61 billion or $6 billion from a continuing resolution to keep the government functioning. But debates over tens of billions in cuts aren’t nearly enough when the country is $14 trillion in debt and borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends: In the month of February alone, the government borrowed $220 billion.
The proposal to cut $61 billion barely makes a dent in one month of borrowed spending and yet President Barack Obama is asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling for the fourth time since he entered office, in order to keep up his big-government spending spree, which has added more than $3 trillion to the debt.
Congress has raised the debt ceiling 10 times in the last 10 years — twice in 2008 and 2009. Still, no action has been taken to stop it from being raised again and again. If the country continues on this course, the debt will nearly double in the next 10 years to $26 trillion.
We must balance the budget, or we will go bust. Now is the time to draw the line. Forty-nine states have balanced budget requirements on their books and the federal government should, too.
All Senate Republicans joined in support last week to introduce a balanced budget amendment. The balanced budget amendment limits government spending to 18 percent of the gross domestic product and requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
It should also be the policy of the entire Republican conference that we will not vote to increase the debt ceiling without first passing this balanced budget amendment.
To raise the debt ceiling will require 60 votes. In order to pass the balanced budget amendment, 67 senators must vote for it. It should be easier to get to 67 votes for a balanced budget amendment than it is to get to 60 to allow trillions more in deficit spending with no plan to rein it in.
Some well-intentioned senators are already looking for a compromise solution by creating a new Congressional statute like Gramm-Rudman or PAYGO from years past, that would “cap” spending at 20.6 percent of our GDP.
While this approach is laudable, it is inadequate. First, tax revenues have averaged barely more than 18 percent of GDP in the past 50 years. Second, spending-restriction statutes are routinely waived and ignored — just like Gramm-Rudman and PAYGO.
Passing a balanced budget amendment to stop spending now should be easier than voting to raise the debt ceiling again and burden our children with trillions more debt. It’s certainly the more responsible thing to do.
A balanced budget is a mainstream idea and the time has come to implement it. And, if anyone needs a reminder of what “extreme” looks like, just look at the status quo senators who are clinging to keep government-funded cowboy poetry in a debt crisis.
Sen. Jim DeMint is a Republican from South Carolina.