Getting the Budget Back in Balance
March 2, 1995, was a pivotal day in the history of our country. On that day, the U.S. Senate failed by one vote to send a balanced budget constitutional amendment to the states for ratification. The amendment had passed the House by the required two-thirds majority and the Senate vote was the last legislative hurdle before ratification by the states.
In 1995, the gross federal debt stood at $4.9 trillion; today, it stands at nearly $20 trillion. If Congress had listened to the American people and sent that amendment to the states for ratification, we would have nothing like the annual deficits and skyrocketing debt we face today. Rather, balancing the federal budget would have been the norm, instead of the exception over the past 22 years.
For anyone who manages the family budget or has been on the other side of a business ledger, you know that spending beyond your means isn’t sustainable for long. Despite what some may claim, it’s not for the federal government either. Not only is that level of debt almost impossible to wrap your mind around, but I also see it as one of the most serious threats facing our country. I’m sure that few would be relieved to know that China is the number one country holding America’s debt. Another particularly troubling thing is that the debts we are incurring will burden multiple future generations. We should not pass on to our children and grandchildren the bleak fiscal future that our unsustainable spending is creating.
The only way to ensure that Congress acts with fiscal restraint over the long term is to pass a balanced budget amendment. In January, I introduced two versions of a balanced budget amendment in the House as I have done every Congress since 2007. Work to move forward on this important subject must continue. Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee, which I chair, held a hearing on the need for a constitutional amendment to hold Congress accountable for a balanced budget each year. At the hearing, Committee members heard from a panel of bipartisan lawmakers on the merits of this proposal as well as from several experts about the wide range of problems created by the budget deficit. While there are many views on this issue, the resounding message from those who testified before the committee was that action is needed to counteract unsustainable federal spending levels that jeopardize our nation’s future.
The United States’ extraordinary fiscal crisis demands an extraordinary solution. In order for Congress to consistently make the tough decisions necessary to control spending, there must be the external pressure of a balanced budget requirement to force it to do so. I have long supported a balanced budget amendment, and I will continue working to build support for this measure. The choice is ours and the stakes are high, but failing to get the budget back in balance should not be an option.