Balanced Budget Amendment Proposed as Government Reopens

While federal employees return to work on Monday after the historic 35-day partial government shutdown, there is little being said about their employer’s climbing national debt of $21 trillion. Two senators are speaking up again about the problem.

Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, reintroduced a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Thursday requiring the federal government balance their budget annually.

“We expect families, businesses, and state and local governments all to stick to their budgets and live within their means–there is no reason that the federal government should not have to follow the same set of rules,” said Lee in a statement.

The amendment would require a two-thirds vote from the House and Senate to allow Congress to run a deficit, raise taxes, or increase the debt limit. The goals are to establish “long-term fiscal sustainability,” according to a press release on the proposed amendment.

Switzerland and Sweden have similar policies which pulled them out of fiscal crises in the 1990s, according to a report on an effective fiscal framework for the U.S. published by Romina Boccia, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget.

“Fiscal rules–such as balanced budget amendments and corresponding statutory provisions to achieve and maintain balance–are necessary to restrain the natural propensity of democracies to spend and borrow to excess,” said Boccia in an email to The Daily Signal.

As Boccia points out, “The U.S. has no constitutional provision to guide fiscal decision-making. The Constitution puts Congress firmly at the center of spending, taxing, and borrowing decisions, but the founding document is silent concerning fiscal sustainability or budget balance.”

The amendment, entitled S.J. Res. 5, restricts government spending to 18 percent of the gross national product, which is the 40-year historical average of total federal receipts. It also empowers any congressional member to seek judicial enforcement of the balanced budget requirement through a petition signed by one-third of either chamber of Congress.

“It’s simple math: The federal government should not be spending more taxpayer money than it brings in,” said Grassley of the amendment. “Families, farmers, and businesses across my home state of Iowa and across the entire country make difficult decisions every day to balance the books. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

Despite how unpopular a balanced budget amendment may be with the holders of the public’s pursestrings, Grassley has been promoting a balanced budget amendment for a long time. He first endorsed the idea during his tenure in the House of Representatives from 1975-1981.

“Politicians are prone to overspend and exaggerate the benefits from deficit-spending,” said Boccia. “After all, they are spending other people’s money; not their own.”

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