Examiner Editorial: Why wait to impose limit on federal spending? 

And now from the Department of Common Sense comes a proposed constitutional amendment to cap federal spending at 20 percent of the annual gross domestic product. Actually, the idea originated with President Thomas Jefferson, but it doesn’t take a renaissance man like our third chief executive to figure out that government spends too much and won’t stop until it’s forced to do so.

The amendment proposal was introduced earlier this week by Reps. Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and John Campbell of Irvine, all Republicans.

The 20 percent of GDP figure chosen by the trio, by the way, is equal to the average annual federal spending since World War II. Surely the federal government, by spending one of every $5 circulating in our economy, should be able to satisfy all legitimate public needs of a liberal commercial republic of 300 million-plus citizens in the 21st century. If not, something besides legitimate need is at work.

And indeed there has been something else, the unceasing drive of progressives to expand federal power into every nook and cranny of American life. Thanks to progressives — aided too often by Republicans who know better, rent-seeking big corporations and unionized career bureaucrats seeking job security — federal spending has skyrocketed in recent years no matter if there was a Republican or a Democrat in the White House, or which party was in power in Congress.

Spending under President George W. Bush and the Republican majorities between 2001 and 2006 increased at the fastest rate since President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society years. (And no, it was not due to spending required by 9/11 or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Republicans who complain now about President Barack Obama’s obliterating even Bush’s spending record should never be allowed to forget what happened on their last watch with their man in the Oval Office.

The scary part of it is that the country is running out of options for dealing with this problem. In just the past five years, the national debt has spiraled from $7 trillion to nearly $13 trillion. Spending under Obama consumes nearly one of every $4 in the economy, leaving progressively less for businesses to invest in job creation and for families to pay for things like college educations, new homes, health insurance and retirement plans.

So, while the constitutional wheels grind, as they must for several years at a minimum before an amendment becomes law, Pence, Hensarling and Campbell should be pushing Congress and the president to adopt the 20 percent cap now. After all, doesn’t voluntary regulation work better than government controls?

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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