As Washington spends the summer arguing over its spending addiction, GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has a solution to help prevent the same crisis for future generations: a balanced budget amendment.
The House made news last week when, in the heat of negotiations over raising the debt ceiling, they announced a vote on a balanced budget amendment this Wednesday. Though the Senate GOP introduced a one earlier this year, President Obama has stated emphatically otherwise, telling Americans last week during a press conference that the country does not need a balanced budget amendment.
“Yes, we do,” Lee told Townhall when asked to respond to the president, adding later when talking about simultaneously raising the debt ceiling and cutting spending, “We can’t bind what a future Congress will do. We can pass laws that will affect this year, but there will be a new Congress that takes power in January of 2013, and then another new one that will take power in January 2015. And they will make their own spending decisions then -- we can’t bind them unless we amend the Constitution to do so.”
Lee points out that the American people support the idea of a balanced budget – 65 percent, according to a Sachs/Mason Dixon poll from this year – but politicians have been reluctant to wade into the debate.
“The fact that we’re in this debate, the fact that we’re sort of deadlocked, or we’ve reached a point of gridlock in the discussions, is indicative of the problem that we have,” Lee said.
In fact, Lee thinks a balanced budget amendment is so important to the future of the country that he’s written a book on it: The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment Is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government.
Lee even takes the argument a step beyond fiscal issues, saying a balanced budget amendment safeguards individual liberties.
““The more money it [Congress] has access to, whether it’s through borrowing or through taxation, either way, that’s going to fuel Congress’ expansion, and whenever government acts, it does so at the expanse of individual liberty,” Lee said. “We become less free every time government expands.”
Lee believes there are several key components to a balanced budget amendment which he outlines in his book, including making tax increases contingent on a two-thirds vote in Congress so that the option to increase taxes is not the default maneuver to balance a budget. He believes the amendment should require Congress spends no more than it takes in, and in fact should cap the spending at a fixed percent of GDP (the proposal submitted in the Senate caps it at 18 percent of GDP, just about the historical average). There would also be a supermajority vote required to raise the debt ceiling.
And for those who argue that stimulus packages wouldn’t have been possible under the amendment, Lee sees little difficulty responding.
“That’s exibit A for why we ought to have it,” Lee said of the Obama stimulus package.
Lee also pointed out that his balanced budget amendment includes an exception to the spending restriction in time of war – “not a blank check, but to the extent necessary.” Congress would also be able to supersede the amendment with a two-thirds vote.
“We wanted to make it difficult, but not impossible, for Congress to spend more than it had access to,” Lee said, citing as an example a massive or immediate crisis created by a national emergency or natural disaster. “What this is designed to do is to make it more difficult – to make it impossible – for Congress to just do this as a matter of course.”