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Howard "Buck" McKeon: We need a balanced-budget amendment

Posted: July 31, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 31, 2011 1:57 a.m.

Imagine a credit card, glossed and shiny, embossed with 16 digits and your name across the front; one linked to the benefit of a credit limit and a payment schedule for amounts owed.

While this is a simplified illustration, for all intents and purposes, America has maxed out its own credit card and hit its legal credit limit.  In the case of America’s credit limit, that amount is a staggering $14.3 trillion.

One might ask how we managed to max out the country’s credit card.  We reached the limit because our government has been on a wild spending spree, recklessly handing out money for new government programs, unwilling to make the tough
choices necessary to address out-of-control spending.

Now, we have reached the debt limit and in order to avoid damaging the full faith and credit of the United States, the
Congress must ensure any action taken to raise the debt limit comes with real and significant spending reform.

According to a recent Gallup Poll and a recent CBS News poll, the majority of Americans do not support raising the debt limit, and this isn’t because they want us to default, but it is because they want Washington to stop the spending.

And with an Aug. 2 deadline looming, House Republicans are holding the line to guarantee a sounder financial path for our country which is facing a fiscal crisis.

We are currently borrowing roughly 42 cents of every dollar we spend, much of it from the Chinese, and are leaving that bill to our children and grandchildren.

It is reported that every child born today already owes more than $46,000 to our creditors.  And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff named our historic debt “the single biggest threat to our national security.”

If we do nothing to adjust the current trajectory of spending, in 10 years, 95 percent of all federal taxes will be used to pay off our debt and fund entitlement programs.  That would leave a mere five percent of annual tax revenues to fund national defense and all the remaining necessary functions of our government. 

This is why I voted, with 233 of my colleagues in the House of Representatives, for the Cut, Cap, and Balance Plan. This plan would begin with real spending cuts this year and follow up with caps to spending in future years.  Most importantly, this plan would allow an increase in the debt limit if and only if the House and Senate pass a balanced budget amendment.

We cannot afford to write yet another blank check without serious reforms and spending restraint built into any agreement. Unfortunately, the Senate rejected this plan on a party line vote. While the House has put forth and voted on a
plan to solve the debt crisis, the president and Senate have yet to present a credible plan.

Now is the moment when we must restore fiscal sanity to Washington.  Making significant cuts to spending to   “live within our means” without raising taxes is going to be challenging, but it is necessary.

Arthur Brooks, president and scholar of the American Enterprise Institute, painted a clear picture in a recent article when he wrote:

“What do most of America’s families do when they find they are overspending? They don’t send the kids out to get part-time jobs in order to increase family revenues — they cut back on their spending. Why? Because that’s what works to solve the problem.”

So while these are not easy decisions, they are the right decisions.  And let me say, it is possible to address this debt crisis without raising taxes, but we must do it by cutting significant amounts of spending and passing a Balanced Budget Amendment. 

And as Ronald Reagan so wisely declared nearly 30 years ago when talking about government overspending and overtaxing, “only a constitutional amendment will do the job.”

That’s why House Republicans are pushing for the Balanced Budget Amendment, a constitutional mandate for a balanced budget. 

In 1995, Congress almost passed a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget, but it failed by one vote. Sixteen years later, we have a chance to get it right.

Congress has tried simply cutting and capping spending before, but spending sprees continue.  As we saw with the failed stimulus, spending pledges and caps are easily ignored when another “new crisis” arises and provides reason to tax and spend some more.

A constitutional mandate to pass a balanced budget every year would legally force Congress to only spend what it receives.

Taxing more will not solve the problem; this debt crisis requires massive cuts in spending and a realignment of the spending mentality that has prevailed for far too long.

This is the time to truly and honestly address the spending issue.  The line is drawn in the sand.  No more demagoguery. 
No more antiquated proposals.  Let’s make the tough choices and make the cuts needed to address our fiscal challenges and pass the Balanced Budget Amendment.

Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a Republican, represents the 25th District of California in the U.S. Congress. He is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.


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