Balanced Budget Amendment: Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

The man just doesn’t get it.

In his deficit reduction plan unveiled Wednesday, President Obama proposed a spending reduction of only $4 trillion over the next 12 years, a figure that falls significantly short of the spending cuts proposed by the President’s own debt commission. The speech is yet another reminder that Obama is not serious about cutting federal spending in practice, but rather in delivering platitudes in the midst of what is arguably our most serious budget crisis in history.

And so the spending debate rages on in Washington.

Many forward-thinking Congressional Republicans, particularly those who ascended to office on the wave of Tea Party victories, have cautioned that lawmakers ought not to accept a spending plan without making sure they get something in return–in the name of restoring fiscal accountability to Washington.

This is indeed a wise impulse: The national debt now looms at well over $14 trillion. The national deficit hurdles toward $1.4 trillion. Our country’s deficit has now reached such epic proportions that even if the federal government were to seize the total assets of every American billionaire, we could not cover the costs of this year’s deficit alone.

Judging from speech this week, either Obama has not internalized the enormity of our national debt, or he is simply not concerned with it. Whether that epiphany strikes him or not, though, we are teetering on the edge of budgetary meltdown, and something must be done if we wish to avoid a complete and utter national fiscal crisis.

For this reason, many Republican lawmakers have insisted that they will not vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling or for a spending plan unless a balanced budget amendment vote is also on the table this spring.

These lawmakers shrewdly see that a balanced budget amendment as one of the few means by which we can begin to return to fiscal sanity as a nation. Year after year, leaders in Washington fail to rein in out-of-control federal spending, and now the United States is on the brink of fiscal collapse.

Either our lawmakers can require a constitutionally mandated balanced federal budget, or international bankers and US debt-holders – including China, Russia, and oil-exporting countries – will do it for us, just as they’re now forcing austerity upon Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and other debt-ridden countries. These debt-ridden countries have seen their unemployment rates nearly double since their financial woes came to a head.

Passage of a balanced budget amendment is a major ingredient to getting our national fiscal health back on track.

However, the calls to tie an increase to the debt limit to an immediate vote on a balanced budget amendment are short-sighted: Republicans simply do not have the votes to pass a balanced budget amendment at this time.

The push for a federal balanced budget amendment, however, could become a reality soon if Republican leadership plays their cards right and bides their time. The balanced budget amendment is almost certainly assured passage in the House. And in a Sense of the Senate vote last month, the Senate was less than ten votes away from expressing sufficient approval for a federal balanced budget amendment.

Good things come to those who wait.

When Republicans ultimately agree to raise the debt limit later this spring, the terms should not be that an immediate balanced budget amendment vote occurs, but rather that Democrats agree to a vote later this fall, such as on October 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

By October 1, not only will proponents of a balanced budget amendment have had time to effectively begin a national public education drive, but the reality of re-election will have set in for many Senate Democrats, nearly half of whom will have to defend their seats in 2012 (twice as many as in 2010). With the election just a year away come this fall, many of those members will be feeling the heat from their constituents enduring high unemployment rates and recession woes, and will therefore be more apt to support fiscally responsible policy.

President Obama demonstrated in his speech Wednesday that restoring our fiscal house to order is not his top concern. Finding bipartisan solutions to the looming budget crisis would be optimal, but Republicans ought not to wait around for Obama to see the light as the nation’s fiscal health collapses.

The duty now falls to Congressional Republicans to restore our country to fiscal sanity by forwarding truly meaningful reforms starting with the balanced budget amendment.