Congressman says constitutional amendment would ensure fiscal responsibility
By James Heffernan -- email@example.com
For all the debate about future spending cuts and caps to reduce a bloated federal deficit, only a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution will ultimately ensure fiscal responsibility in Washington, according to a local congressman.
The emergency package approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Obama includes a requirement that both the House and Senate vote by the end of the year on a balanced-budget amendment not unlike the one introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, on the first day of the 112th Congress.
"It's a big part of it," Goodlatte said Tuesday. "The Cut, Cap and Balance Act only passed the House [on Friday] after the balanced budget amendment was added to it." That version was rejected by the Senate, but the voting requirement resurfaced in Sunday's compromise agreement.
There was a time, not long ago, when a balanced-budget amendment appeared destined to again fall by the wayside.
Last August, when the House Republican leadership was drafting its Pledge to America, the item was the last to be considered for inclusion. It didn't make the cut.
"I was pretty disappointed by that," said Goodlatte, who has led the charge to rein in federal spending since he first arrived on Capitol Hill in 1993, and who currently has two balanced-budget resolutions circulating in the House.
"I have been working for the last year to build up support," he said.
Goodlatte seized an opportunity last week when House Speaker John Boehner was scrambling to unite splintered Republicans on a plan to keep the government from defaulting on its fiscal obligations.
"I told the speaker the overwhelming majority of the American people support a balanced-budget constitutional amendment. They understand it. They may not understand all the ins and outs of raising the debt ceiling, but they understand you can't live beyond your means."
Forty-nine of the 50 states are required to balance their budgets, he said. "People expect nothing less from the federal government."
Goodlatte's H.J. Res. 1 is a three-part balanced budget amendment that would amend the Constitution to require that total spending for any fiscal year not exceed total receipts; that bills to raise revenues pass each house by a two-thirds majority; and that annual spending not exceed 18 percent of the economic output of the United States.
His H.J. Res. 2 simply requires that total spending for any fiscal year not exceed total receipts. It is the same legislation that passed the House in 1995 but fell one vote short in the Senate.
Goodlatte said he prefers the first version, but H.J. Res. 2 has a better chance of gaining Democratic support. The measure presently has 241 co-sponsors in the House, he said, so it is about 50 votes shy of the number needed for passage.
As for the $2 trillion in cuts required over the next decade as part of the debt agreement, Goodlatte said "it's not as much as I'd like, but certainly substantial."
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th, who also has been working for years to bring attention to the need to address the nation's ballooning debt, believes everything must be on the table for consideration in the coming months and years, including entitlement spending.
"If we don't deal with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, we cannot solve this problem," Wolf said.
Spending on such programs has grown at a level that is simply not sustainable, he said.
Goodlatte said the next time Congress takes up the debt limit debate, lawmakers need to be ready with additional spending cuts.
"If we can keep on that track, we can balance the budget," he said. "But the long-term solution is a balanced-budget amendment."