Balanced budget amendment for Congress discussed at CPAC

Andy Harris Maryland

March 16, 2013

By Josephine Djuhana

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Some conservatives believe a federal balanced budget amendment is an essential reform for fiscal management in Congress. That was the topic of discussion during a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the National Harbor in Maryland.

Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, moderated the discussion and began with a simple two-part plan for Washington to balance the budget—by “never raising taxes” and “not spending so much of other people’s money.” He also highlighted Paul Ryan’s recently unveiled budget, which rolls back entitlements and federal power, and balances the budget without raising taxes. The budget, according to Norquist, was not only a way to reduce the size of the federal government by reforming, but also a “step in the right direction to enact tax reform.”

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said in reference to the Senate, “They don’t believe that the spending is the problem, and they don’t believe the debt or the deficit is a problem.” Anyone who has read Paul Krugman would know that to be the case. And even President Obama recently charged that he was not interested in a “balanced budget just for the sake of balance.” With much concern mounting over the nation’s ever-growing $16 trillion deficit, it’s no wonder that conservatives are now looking for ways to force Congress to create a balanced budget. But Democrats in Washington don’t seem to seem to agree on the need to halt spending, as the budget proposal from Senate Democrats, according to Norquist, “raises taxes and never balances the budget.” The budget plan includes $1 trillion in tax increases and a new $100 billion stimulus plan. It also increases spending by 60 percent over the next ten years, leaving an additional deficit of $500 billion ten years from now.

Derrick Khanna Grover Norquist

“That’s why you need a balanced budget amendment, because in the end, [Washington] can’t restrain itself,” Rep. Harris said. “And we certainly can’t guarantee that future Congresses will restrain themselves.”

The panelist consensus was that outside intervention is needed in order to limit spending by Congress. “Unlimited debt is the fairy dust that makes unlimited government function,” said Nick Dranias, a director at the Goldwater Institute.

There are two methods to ratify a constitutional amendment, but the path through Congress does not seem promising, as it requires a two-thirds majority approval in both houses of Congress. The state method is the alternative.

“In the state method, there is a critical check and balance on federal government,” said Derrick Khanna; he’s a former professional staff member for the Republican Study Committee. “It is unfortunate that this method has never been used as our Founders intended.”

All that is needed is a three-fourths majority of states to ratify a constitutional amendment. “States across the country are pushing for a federal balanced budget. First it was Florida, in 2010, and then it was New Hampshire, last year,” said Khanna.

Effects of a balanced budget amendment

There are certain fears that with a balanced budget amendment, members of Congress could force a tax increase in order to ensure that revenues keep up with expenditures.

But Arizona, which has a balanced budget requirement, has used this obligation to its benefit by rejecting Obamacare. When Governor Jan Brewer attempted to raise taxes in order to fund Obamacare in the state, the state legislature shot the proposal down, as state tax increases require a two-thirds majority in order to be ratified.

The balanced budget requirement also seems to be working for the state of Texas.

Texas Governor Rick Perry

Texas Governor Rick Perry was also present at CPAC, and delivered short remarks on his state in comparison with the federal government.

“Texas has a balanced budget and a surplus, and is creating more jobs than any other state in the Union, and we’re doing this with a part-time legislature that meets for only 140 days every other year,” said Gov. Perry. “Our legislature—they come in and they pass laws, and then they go home and live under those laws.”

He then emphasized that states should be “the laboratories of reform.”

But instead, we have a federal government that mandates and dictates regulations to states, what with Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid, the proposed increase in the minimum wage and more. Many conservative allies have fallen to money from the federal government and special interest groups, and we have reached a point where it seems that nothing can stop Washington from continuing on its taxing and spending binge.

“Washington doesn’t worry about how to pay its bills; they just charge it to our grandchildren’s accounts,” said Gov. Perry. “But in Texas, our constitution requires a balanced budget.”

Gov. Perry emphasized that Texas’ “number one ranking when it comes to job creation” is directly correlated to having “balanced budgets and one of the lowest tax and spending rates in the nation.”

Framework for a balanced budget amendment

During the panel, Nick Dranias highlighted the Compact for America, which is a formal amendment to balance the budget and has additional inclusions that work to prevent outright taxation by Congress in order to balance the budget.

But the path to Congressional discipline on the fiscal matters will be an uphill battle, yet many activists would like to see Congress reexamine itself and its practices when it comes to balancing the budget. As government expands, liberties decrease, and the best way to curb government intervention is to take away its ability to spend recklessly.

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