Use the Con­sti­tu­tion to cut spend­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Lib­er­als around town are freaked out be­cause House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, told Wall Street lead­ers on May 9 that a hike in the debt ceil­ing would have to be ac­com­pa­nied by gov­ern­ment spend­ing cuts that ex­ceed the amount of ex­tra debt. That’s not the kind of thing the left, which wants ev­ery tax­payer dime to stay in Wash­ing­ton, wants to hear — but big spenders may have no choice but to lis­ten.

The pub­lic debt now ex­ceeds $14.3 tril­lion, the Trea­sury is empty, and af­ter next week, it’ll be nearly im­pos­si­ble to is­sue new debt with­out a vote of Congress. Such a vote ought not to hap­pen un­less ma­jor bud­get re­forms put an end to the cur­rent, un­sus­tain­able spend­ing spree in Wash­ing­ton. For­tu­nately, the Repub­li­can con­gres­sional lead­er­ship is look­ing for the best way to force Wash­ing­ton to spend only what it takes in from tax rev­enue over the long haul.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, wants im­me­di­ate cuts in spend­ing be­fore putting to a vote any long-term bud­get re­forms. “All op­tions are on the ta­ble when it comes to the debt limit ne­go­ti­a­tions — ex­cept tax hikes,” Mr. Can­tor’s press sec­re­tary, Laena Fal­lon, told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “That in­cludes con­sid­er­a­tion of a Bal­anced Bud­get Amend­ment, which we may bring for­ward in the House for a stand-alone vote. That said, Leader Can­tor has made clear that we must achieve real and im­me­di­ate spend­ing cuts in or­der to raise the debt limit.”

Rep. Bob Good­latte, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, has rein­tro­duced a ver­sion of the Bal­anced Bud­get Amend­ment that came within a sin­gle Se­nate vote of pas­sage in 1995 as part of the “Con­tract with Amer­ica.” The new res­o­lu­tion has 221 cospon­sors, in­clud­ing 13 Democrats. “I am pleased that a ma­jor­ity of the mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are sup­port­ing my leg­is­la­tion,” Mr. Good­latte told Emily Miller of The Wash­ing­ton Times. “We must make the tough de­ci­sions nec­es­sary to bal­ance our bud­get and pass a Bal­anced Bud­get Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion, which would en­sure that Congress cur­tails its spend­ing on an an­nual ba­sis re­gard­less of which party is in con­trol.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, has united all 47 mem­bers of his cau­cus be­hind a “con­sen­sus Bal­anced Bud­get Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.” Mr. McCon­nell wants a vote on the mea­sure be­fore a vote on boost­ing the debt ceil­ing. The Se­nate ver­sion sets the spend­ing cap at 18 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct and re­quires a less-strin­gent two-thirds vote in both cham­bers to pass spend­ing bills which ex­ceed rev­enue. The Se­nate bill would also re­quire a three-fifths vote of Congress to raise the debt ceil­ing. Some fis­cal con­ser­va­tives are con­cerned that a Bal­anced Bud­get Amend­ment would drive up taxes with a Congress chron­i­cally un­able to cut spend­ing. The House doesn’t ad­dress the is­sue of tax in­creases, but the Se­nate ver­sion re­quires a two-thirds vote in both cham­bers for any hike.

Forty-nine states have con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ments forc­ing their leg­is­la­tures to stay within the bud­get re­straints. Amer­i­cans are feel­ing the un­prece­dented pinch of gov­ern­ment profli­gacy, and aware­ness of Wash­ing­ton’s spend­ing prob­lem has never been greater. Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Ti­mothy F. Gei­th­ner es­ti­mates ac­tion on the debt ceil­ing would have to take place in Au­gust to avoid de­fault, so Repub­li­cans have a unique op­por­tu­nity to push for a per­ma­nent re­form of the fed­eral spend­ing process. Mr. Boehner, Mr. Can­tor and Mr. McCon­nell need to strike while the iron is hot.

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