Wicker Co-Sponsors Balanced Budget Amendment

Date: Nov. 28, 2011
Issues: Constitution

By Senator Wicker

The national debt topped $15 trillion earlier this month -- an alarming figure unprecedented in our nation's history. Our government's debt has eclipsed the size of the entire U.S. economy, and Americans are right to be concerned.

In fact, the federal debt has increased more rapidly under President Obama's watch than any other U.S. president's. The federal government is borrowing a staggering 43 cents of every dollar we spend. Like any crisis, fixing the problem will take more than dealing with the damage that has been done. Serious reform should be preventive -- with measures that put a permanent check on Washington's overspending.

A Constitutional Answer

The Budget Control Act, which passed this summer, requires Congress to vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution before the end of the year. A number of versions have emerged, including one recently considered by the House of Representatives. The Senate is likely to vote on its own version soon.

Unlike the House measure, the amendment supported by all 47 Senate Republicans puts strict limits on federal spending power and makes it harder for Congress to raise taxes. It would cap annual spending at the historical average for revenues -- 18 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) -- and require a supermajority vote in both the House and Senate before taxes could be increased or the debt ceiling raised.

Under such an amendment, there would be no room for the reckless use of taxpayer money. As former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin wrote recently for National Review, "Constraint is not a policy cost; it is a policy benefit." In essence, spending limits will result in smarter spending.

Demand for Accountability

Families across the country make sacrifices every day to live within their means in today's tough economy. Most states -- including Mississippi -- have balanced-budget requirements. It is not unreasonable to demand the federal government do the same.

The call for a constitutional requirement is neither new nor lacking in bipartisan appeal. Not long after I was elected to Congress in 1994, a balanced-budget amendment passed with 300 votes in the House before falling short by one vote in the Senate. The national debt has tripled in size since then.
The majority of Americans are ready for serious change that will rein in Washington's out-of-control spending and put confidence back in the market. According to a CNN/ORC International poll in July, nearly three in four Americans want a balanced-budget amendment to pass.

Looking Long-Term

Simply put, we cannot keep spending money we do not have. According to economists, excessive debt brings down economic growth and hurts job creation. The current financial crisis in Europe is a troubling case in point.

The failed bipartisan supercommittee's recent inaction will result in automatic cuts, much of which will fall on our nation's defense. We can do better on behalf of future generations by implementing long-term reform that protects national security and prevents years of overspending from happening again. I remain committed to making the tough decisions we need to put America's fiscal house back in order. We can start by passing the Senate's balanced-budget amendment and sending it to the states for ratification.