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Forcing Washington to Live within Its Means

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Washington politicians do not live by the same rules that virtually all families and small businesses play by. It is your responsibility to balance your budget, spend no more than what’s in your bank account, and have a plan to manage common expenses like student, home and car loans.


But in Washington, money is routinely borrowed from Peter to pay Paul.  Or in America’s case, money is borrowed from China and others to pay for more government than we could ever afford.  As a result, politicians have dug us in to a hole of $15 trillion in debt, with no end in sight. Now, more than ever, we need a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In Florida’s state government, we worked under a balanced budget amendment.  And every year, we worked tirelessly, had contentious debates and made very tough choices to pass a balanced budget year after year.  That responsibility and accountability is not unique to Florida, as practically every other state also works under a balanced budget amendment.  We need to bring this same kind of fiscal restraint to Washington.  And unless we enshrine strong balanced budget principles in our Constitution, Washington politicians will never stop.  That’s why it’s critically important that the Senate approve a strong balanced budget amendment this week.

The national debt is now over $15 trillion.  When I was sworn into office about a year ago, the debt was just over $14 trillion. That means that, in just one year, Congress has allowed our debt to increase by more than $1 trillion.  Virtually nothing could stop it from happening, despite the fact that 2011 has given us a startling glimpse into our future as European nations face their day of reckoning for decades of reckless spending.


This year’s debt ceiling debate gave us an opportunity to get serious about controlling our debt and reform the way Washington spends money.  But not enough people have been willing to come to grips with the reality that decades of reckless spending, by both parties, are leading us to a diminished future.

As the Senate debates a balanced budget amendment this week, it’s important to note that not all balanced budget amendment proposals are created equal.  The version that I have joined all 47 of my Senate Republican colleagues in supporting includes three elements I believe are key to truly handcuffing out-of-control politicians: a two-thirds supermajority to raise taxes, a three-fifths supermajority to increase the debt limit and a cap on all federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product.  The proposal put forth by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) contains no cap on spending, no taxpayer protections and no strict mechanisms to ensure that the amendment is actually followed.  Unfortunately, if ratified, this proposal would simply be another ineffective, disingenuous Washington move that would make it easier to raise taxes and still allow for more spending.


The idea of not spending more money than we have is common sense for working families and small businesses. We need to bring that common sense to Washington, and we need a strong balanced budget amendment that is truly worthy of being added to our Constitution. This week, the Senate must seize the moment by passing a real balanced budget amendment.

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