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Put Constitutional Cap on Federal Spending

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
If anything good came out of the deal House Speaker John Boehner cut with President Barack Obama to increase the limit on the federal debt by as much as $2.4 trillion, it was that the legislation enacting that increase also provided that by the end of this year both houses of Congress must vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

However, Boehner may now turn that good thing bad.

At Boehner's press briefing last week,'s Matt Cover noted that there were two basic versions of a balanced budget amendment -- one that capped federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product and required supermajorities in both houses of Congress to enact a tax increase and one that didn't cap spending or require supermajorities for tax increases.

Cover asked: Had the Republican House leadership ruled out supporting the second kind?

"There are at least half a dozen different versions of a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution," Boehner responded.

"Many of us believe that a balanced budget amendment is the ultimate enforcement mechanism to control spending here in Washington," he said. "As we approach this vote, the (majority) leader and I are going to listen to our members about which version they would want us to vote on, and we've got no decision yet, but we're going to work with our members to make that decision."

Bottom line: Boehner may lead the Republican House in voting on a balanced budget amendment that permits unlimited federal spending and allows simple majorities to increase taxes to whatever level they want.

Ed Meese, who served as attorney general for President Ronald Reagan, does not think this is a good idea.'s Cover interviewed Meese about the issue last Friday.


"A weak balanced budget amendment -- without certain safeguards and protections against excessive taxation and excessive spending -- would be worse than the situation we have at the present time," Meese said.

"It would be used by those who seek to have an expanded government and increased taxes to make it mandatory to increase taxes," said Meese. "It would make it much easier to raise taxes, and that's why the important thing is to have a protection, for example, that it would take two-thirds of both houses in order to increase taxes ... and, likewise, that there be some sort of a cap on expenditures, perhaps in relation to gross domestic product."

Meese said he also would like to see language that prevents courts from using the amendment to usurp the constitutional authority of the elected branches -- the legislature and the executive -- to make the nation's taxing-and-spending laws.

Make no mistake: Meese is for a balanced budget amendment.

"(A) strong balanced budget amendment with protections in regard to taxation, and in regard to spending, and in regard to court interference is absolutely critical if we're going to preserve the kind of a country and the kind of constitutional republic that we have at the present time," he told


This is no exaggeration. Runaway federal spending, driven by the welfare state that President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated during the Great Depression, has brought America to the brink of ruin.

In 1902, according to the Tax Foundation, the federal government spent only 1.9 percent of GDP.

By fiscal 1941, before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, FDR had managed to hike that to 12 percent.

In fiscal 2011, according to OMB, the Obama administration spent 25.3 percent of GDP -- more than twice what FDR spent at the height of the Depression.

In fiscal 2011 alone, the national debt jumped $1.229 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury. In calendar year 2010 (when fiscal 2011 started), there were only 93.641 million Americans who were full-time workers in the private sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means that last year alone the federal government borrowed about $13,121 for every full-time private-sector worker in the country.

And this is before Obamacare is fully implemented or the baby boom generation fully retires and starts drawing Social Security and Medicare benefits.

This week, I interviewed Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who has offered a balanced budget amendment in the Senate that would cap federal spending at 18 percent of GDP and require two-thirds majorities in both houses to enact a tax increase.


Lee said every Republican senator supports this amendment, and that an amendment that did not cap spending and require two-thirds majorities to increase taxes would likely lose Republican votes in the Senate.

Boehner would make a profound mistake if he led House Republicans to vote on a balanced budget amendment that did not limit federal spending as a percentage of a GDP and did not require supermajorities to increase taxes. He would not only hurt -- rather then help -- the amendment's chances for ratification, he would be signaling that House Republicans are not ready to close the door to limitless federal spending.

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