Freedom Watch

Restoring Responsibility

By From the April 2011 issue

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At the start of the new congress, President Obama faced a choice: use the next two years working with Congress to enact meaningful spending reduction, or continue the status quo and focus on reelection. If there was any doubt which path he has chosen, the president's unrealistic and irresponsible budget proposal now makes it clear.

Though our economic problems are serious, the president's budget proposal is not. Instead of moving the country toward greater prosperity, his budget increases the national debt, dramatically raises taxes, and ignores entitlement spending. It is a proposal short on substance, aimed at political safety rather than economic progress.

Even the president's own advisors acknowledge his budget is more theatre than a realistic roadmap. Presidential aides recently told the Washington Post that proposing meaningful reform, such as restructuring entitlements, would be politically "foolish." Regrettably, the president has abdicated responsible leadership for the country's finances.

Further, his public statements have been highly deceptive, if not outright false. The president's claim that "by the middle of this decade our annual spending will match our annual revenues" is directly contradicted by the data contained in his budget. By his own estimates, in 2015, revenue will reach only $3.5 trillion while outlays will exceed $4 trillion. In 2020, receipts will eclipse $4.5 trillion with outlays at more than $5.6 trillion. With no accountability built in to the process, the president can comfortably make these unrealistic claims.

The only answer is to impose structural constraints on the budget process that would force the president to address our real challenges head on. The president and Congress should be required by the Constitution to pass a balanced budget every year. Republicans and Democrats would have to work together to prioritize our constitutional obligations. We would debate less about the proper size of our deficit and debt, and more about the proper role of the federal government.

A Balanced Budget Amendment would end the partisan exercise our budget debate has become and demand a genuine discussion about basic constitutional responsibilities. A structural limitation that spends only what we take in would introduce much-needed accountability into our budget process. It is the only path to putting our nation's fiscal house in order.

Along with Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, I have proposed a serious and effective Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. It is the only current Balanced Budget Amendment that will put us on the road to a real, lasting economic recovery.

My proposal requires a balanced budget every fiscal year, and limits federal spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product. If we face an emergency and government needs to spend more, two-thirds of Congress must vote to increase taxes, raise the debt limit, or run a specific deficit. The current budget process encourages Congress to overspend. My amendment would hold the federal government to a much higher standard.

As of this writing, Congress is deciding whether or not to increase, yet again, the amount of debt with which we burden our children and future generations, the so-called debt ceiling. I oppose raising the ceiling, and will vote against it.

In addition, I am prepared to filibuster any increase to the national debt without first voting on a meaningful Balanced Budget Amendment.

My amendment is tough, enforceable, and will apply each year regardless of which party is in power. A meaningful Balanced Budget Amendment is the only way to ensure the president and Congress act responsibly in confronting our nation's fiscal challenges in the years to come.

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About the Author

Mike Lee is the junior senator from Utah.