Balanced Budget Amendment Vital to America's Future

Ken Klukowski

4/1/2011 12:01:00 AM - Ken Klukowski

Editors' note: this column was co-authored by Ken Blackwell.

On Mar. 31, Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee introduced a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to make it a constitutional requirement for Washington, D.C., to end our deficit spending and culture of debt. And our national grassroots organization, Pass the Balanced Budget Amendment, is working with them to compel lawmakers to approve this change to the Supreme Law of the Land.

The BBA requires that the U.S. cannot spend more than it takes in, making the federal government act just like most state governments, and for that matter just like all of you reading this column.

There are a few emergency exceptions, such as allowing two-thirds of the House and Senate to suspend it for a specific reason for one year, with lower thresholds to respond to a military threat to our national security or an official, declared war against a specific nation (not some open-ended or global military operation).

But with the exception of an all-out war, those exceptions only apply if there's the political will for a supermajority of Congress to support it. If those of us who fought to get the right people elected in 2010 keep those efforts up in 2012 and beyond, then we can finally force Congress to live within its means.

The amendment is cosponsored by all 47 Senate Republicans. This raises eyebrows in that the last time a proposed BBA was voted on, 1997, it enjoyed Democratic support with 66 votes, falling a single vote short in the Senate. (It also means that we need some solid constitutional conservatives to win a few more Senate seats.)

A separate story here is Utah’s leading role. That state’s senior senator, Orrin Hatch, designed one version of the BBA. Utah’s junior senator, Mike Lee, designed another. Both senators—one tied as the most senior Republican in the chamber and the other among the newest—then designed a composite version.

The resulting BBA addresses several major economic priorities. In addition to forcing a balanced budget, the BBA caps federal spending at 18% of GDP. It also requires a 60% vote to raise the national debt limit. It requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes. And in forbids courts from ordering any tax increase. The BBA thus addresses multiple aspects of fiscal policy in a full-spectrum response to America’s debt-and-deficit nightmare.

Utah’s predominance regarding a constitutional amendment is no surprise. Senator Hatch is the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was talked up as a potential Supreme Court nominee years ago. Senator Lee is the only former Supreme Court law clerk in the Senate—having served under conservative Justice Samuel Alito—and is already mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee. These two senators may be bookends in seniority and age, but they are the foremost constitutional scholars in the Senate. The Beehive State is well-served on this critical issue by the two men representing them in the U.S. Senate.

The Constitution is extraordinarily difficult to amend, requiring two-thirds of the House and Senate to propose it to the states (that's 290 and 67, respectively), then three-fourths of the states (38) to ratify it.

To turn the BBA into reality, Senators Hatch and Lee are working with a national grassroots organization, Pass the Balanced Budget Amendment, to organize volunteers in every legislative district in America to mobilize political momentum.

We are very grateful to have Senators Hatch and Lee as Honorary Chairman. With their leadership, as well as others such as Co-Chairman Ken Buck of Colorado, the BBA has the best chances of passing since America’s fiscal mismanagement began decades ago.

This is not just about economic conservatives. We must balance our national budget for the sake of our children’s future. And our national debt has now become a national security concern as well. This is the perfect fusion of the three legs of the Reagan Coalition, and will benefit all Americans.

There are also serious political implications. The BBA should change the national debate. With several GOP presidential contenders endorsing the idea, this will very likely be an issue for the 2012 elections. Those of us involved at the grassroots level with this issue are determined on making it so.