Americans are discussing the federal government’s debt and deficits. America’s budget deficits — the amount of money the United States spends annually beyond what we take in — are unsustainable. The deficit this year is $1.5 trillion and 42 percent of what the federal government spends will be borrowed. The debt, which is the accumulation of all previous unpaid deficits, now exceeds $15 trillion and is growing dramatically. Greece’s economic problems, due to its debt and deficit, are a cautionary tale to our country. The question we discuss is the same question the average American family faces — how to balance our budget.
One area where the federal government can learn from Louisiana is found in Article 7, Subsection 10 of the Louisiana Constitution. This one sentence clause simply states that the only acceptable and legal state budget is a balanced one. This provision is the background of all budget decisions and cannot be ignored. It forces the Legislature and the governor to come together on tough decisions about budgeting and spending every year. At the end of every state legislative session, no one goes home until the budget is blanced and the job is done.
This week, Congress will vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the Constitution. If approved by a 2/3 vote in the House and Senate, it will be sent to states. If 3/4 of America’s state legislatures approve, it will be ratified as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
The balanced budget amendment currently on the floor is the exact same bill that passed Congress in 1995 with 300 bipartisan votes, including 72 Democrats. In 1995 even current Democrat leadership members Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn voted in favor of the legislation. This is why I am disappointed that Democrat members including, Mr. Hoyer, are saying they will now oppose the BBA. If the BBA fails this time, it will because of politics and not because of policy.
This legislation is simple and makes sense. It requires the federal government to not spend more than it takes in, requires a 3/5 vote to raise the debt ceiling and requires a majority roll call vote for any tax hike. Most importantly, it requires future presidents to submit a balanced budget to Congress. The BBA provides an exception in times of war or serious conflict so when emergency funding is needed, it will be available.
In our national discussion about spending, the BBA is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is my hope that Congress can be as wise as the average American family is when they balance their budget.
The preceding originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Baton Rouge Advocate.