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Q&A: Balanced Budget Amendment

February 10, 2017
Senator Chuck Grassley , Dysart Reporter

Q: Why are you co-sponsoring an amendment requiring Congress to pass a balanced budget?

A: The founders authorized a federal amendment process with Article V of the U.S. Constitution to give future generations a stake in our system of self-government. Arguably, the future of our republic is at stake with regard to unsustainable federal spending. Now, amending our founding charter is a serious undertaking for good reason: to withstand the whims of time and establish a framework for consensus among a heterogeneous population variedby regional, cultural and political ideology. As for my advocacy for a Balanced Budget Amendment, it's widely known that the United States of America is awash in a sea of red ink. And yet, forging a path to protect future generations from the riptide of unsustainable debt has proven elusive, even though it is a priority for fiscal conservatives like myself. Through oversight and legislative avenues, I have worked to make government live within its means just like U.S. households, family farms and businesses do to stay afloat. However, fiscal discipline is not a priority for Big Spenders who believe that government knows best, no matter the cost to taxpayers. Keep in mind that nearly every state has enacted a balanced budget amendment to restore fiscal discipline in their ledgers. And the sky has not fallen over any of their state capitals. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. As President Trump said in his inaugural address, now is the hour of action. Remember that the president, lawmakers and federal judges take an oath to uphold the Constitution. So, adopting a Balanced Budget Amendment that requires Congress to each year pass a budget that balances would stop lawmakers from kicking the fiscal can down the road into perpetuity. Importantly, our system of checks and balances would apply, just as it has for more than two centuries, to ensure fidelity to the rule of law and to uphold government "of, by and for the people."

Q: What is the fiscal outlook for the federal government?

A: According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, debt held by the public stands at 77 percent of the nation's economic output. What's worse, the debt is projected to surge to 89 percent of GDP in 10 years, the highest level since World War II. It's time to put the brakes on the nation's tax-spend-and borrow binge. As a share of the economy, debts and deficits are driving America in the wrong direction. The debt held by the public is on pace to rise from $14.2 trillion to $24.9 trillion in the next decade. Add in the federal I.O.U.s and the nation's debt is marching toward $20 trillion. Under current law, federal spending tied to our aging population, rising health costs and climbing interest payments will keep deficits going in the wrong direction as far as the eye can see. Don't forget, those obligations also shrink the revenue available for other government programs and public services, such as defense and national security, agriculture, infrastructure, medical research and more. Uncle Sam is projected to collect $3.4 trillion in 2017. Congress ought to be able to pass a budget without borrowing even more with that amount of money coming into the federal coffers.

Q: How would the proposed Balanced Budget Amendment work?

A: It would require Congress to spend no more than it collects during any fiscal year, and it would limit spending to 18percent of the gross national product. That's the 40-year historical average of total federal receipts. It provides for an emergency safety valve, for national crises, by allowing Congress to only run a deficit, raise taxes, or increase the debt limit if agreed to by two-thirds of both the House and Senate. Furthermore, the amendment gives standing to any member of Congress to seek judicial enforcement of the balanced budget requirement as long as the federal lawmaker receives authorization by a petition signed by one-third of either the House or the Senate. The amendment would become effective in the second fiscal year after ratification. Only 27 constitutional amendments have been adopted in our nation's 240-year history. Considering the sweeping fiscal instability of our country, the time has come to add a 28th amendment. For that to happen, our proposed amendment must earn a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress. Then, at least three-fourths of the state legislatures (38 of 50) are required to ratify it. Amending our founding charter to require a binding balanced budget every year would help steer America back on the road to prosperity. When the federal government spends beyond its means year after year, future generations are put on the hook and saddled with debt they didn't create. We have a moral obligation to our children and grandchildren to afford them the opportunity to pursue happiness and prosperity without anchoring their dreams with a $60,000 per person debt burden. Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. president, wrote: "We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt." I agree. The federal government cannot tax, spend and borrow its way to prosperity. There is no better time for Congress to pass this amendment and get America's fiscal house in order once and for all.

 
 

 

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