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America Needs a Balanced Budget Amendment Today More Than Ever

In the age of gargantuan federal budgets, trillion dollar deficits, and a record $15.4 trillion debt, the calls for passing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution have never been louder. The Tea Party movement put America’s out-of-control levels of federal spending and debt in the national spotlight in 2009 and 2010, and with a midterm election message of fiscal responsibility in “cut, cap, and balance,” the Republican Party rode into their biggest House majority since 1948.

Then on June 19, 2011, the House passed the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act by a vote of 234-190. The bill would have cut total spending by $111 billion in fiscal year 2012 and capped total federal spending by creating a “glide path” that limits spending at 22.5% of GDP the following year, and gradually decreased spending  levels over 10 year levels until locking in at 19.9% of GDP by 2021. But most importantly, the legislation would have required that Congress pass a Balanced Budget Amendment which would then be sent to the states for ratification. The bill was struck down by the Democrat majority Senate on July 22, by a 51-46 vote.

You might think that getting a Balanced Budget Amendment (a constitutional rule requiring that the state cannot spend more than its income) passed is nothing more than a fiscal conservative pipe dream, but you’d be wrong. In fact, did you know that in 1995, Congress fell just one Senate vote short of pulling it off? That’s why it’s so important that Tea Party supporters and deficit hawks keep this issue in the national spotlight in the 2012 election until enough lawmakers are elected to pass legislation that will get America’s runaway spending under control.

In the 1994 midterms, the GOP swooped into power during an election that not only switched majorities in both houses of Congress, but also gave Republicans their first House majority in 40 years. They ran on a campaign of promises popularly titled, “The Contract with America,” where they detailed the actions they promised to take if they were given full control of Congress. Among them was passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act, an amendment to the Constitution that would require a balanced budget under federal law.

To pass constitutional amendments, a two-thirds majority vote is needed in both houses of Congress before it is sent to the states, of which three-fourths (38) must ratify for it to be implemented. The president has no role in this process.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act passed the House on January 26, 1995 by a 300-132 majority, 10 votes more than needed for a two-thirds majority. Seventy-two Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in voting for the legislation. But in the Senate, the bill fell just one vote shy of a two-thirds majority, having been struck down by a 66-34 vote [the final official tally was 65-35 because Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) changed his vote to nay to allow him, pursuant to Senate rules, to call for a revote later in the 104th Congress]. Thirteen Democratic senators supported it.

Worst of all, the deciding vote was the lone Republican senator who voted against it: Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.). The 28-year-incumbent liberal Republican, who wasn’t running for a sixth term, said he voted it down because he “thought the amendment would have starved social programs of federal money.”

That was the closest Washington ever got to pulling it off.

Today, with the polarization of the parties, it’s hard to imagine ever gathering enough votes again to garner a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress for such an historic bill of legislation. But look where we are. Federal spending and debt only gets higher and higher every year. Over the last 50 years, defense spending has decreased from 56.8% of the federal budget to 19.6% today, while entitlement spending, which used to take up 25.4% of the federal budget, now eats up 65.1% of tax dollars. Subsequently, defense spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen to near historic lows, despite wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while entitlement spending as a percentage of GDP has reached an all-time high.

The left’s solution is to raise tax rates higher and higher to try and keep up with these spending levels, even though our tax system is riddled with loopholes, subsidies, and special interest carve-outs. A recent AP-GfK poll, however, found that a majority of Americans favor cutting spending in government services out of the federal budget more than raising taxes by a 56% to 31% margin.

The need to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment is greater than ever before and there’s no better time to do it than now. Our spending, debt, and deficits must be brought back under control. We came within one vote just 17 years ago. We can do it again.

Photo Credit: GOP

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