It’s Time to Pass the Lee Balanced Budget Amendment | Commentary
With the president’s recent lawlessness on executive amnesty and GOP efforts to beat it back, it’s easy to forget that just three and a half years ago, we were on the cusp of a grand bargain. President Barack Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner would tackle a range of ever-present fiscal crises, everyone would make tough concessions, and the nation would be on sound fiscal footing for a generation.
Alas, it was not to be. In a rare moment of fortitude, the speaker wouldn’t go along with the massive tax increases the president wanted. Wise, since the alleged spending reductions would come only in future Congresses — which can’t be bound by the present one. Tax hikes, of course, would come on the front end.
And therein lies the problem with “grand bargains” or “budget deals:” Statists get the tax increases up front, based on their false promises of future spending cuts that never materialize. Think back to the moment that began the demise of President George H. W. Bush. He broke his famous “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge in the spirit of getting a “budget deal” with the Democratic Congress.
Why was this deal even necessary? Because liberals had grown tired of the ironclad spending cuts (known then as “sequestration”) in legislation that bore the name of then-Sens. Phil Gramm, Warren Rudman and Ernest Hollings. Under their bill, without a balanced budget, there were across-the-board cuts to bring spending under control. Again, after about four years, liberals had their fill of fiscal responsibility, and the budget deal relegated Gramm-Rudman-Hollings obsolete and largely forgotten.
With politicians in both parties unwilling to tackle out-of-control spending and debt, clearly a balanced budget amendment (BBA)to the constitution is the only vehicle to rein in the spending that will bankrupt the republic. Not all BBAs are created equal, however; and it’s important that conservatives line up behind Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Lee’s Bill, S J Res 2, has the kind of real teeth in it necessary to force Congress to make the tough decisions they were elected to make. Again, BBAs can vary. A simple amendment that said, for instance, “outlays shall not exceed revenues in a fiscal year,” opens the door for yet more tax increases. Politicians addicted to spending other people’s money won’t go cold-turkey, not when they can simply hike taxes.
The Lee BBA has several key components that set it apart from the alternatives. Not only must outlays not exceed revenues for a given year, spending shall not exceed 18 percent of the country’s gross domestic product for the previous year.
It gets better — for those of us in favor of fiscal responsibility, anyway. Anyone seeking to override those two restrictions on spending will need a two-thirds supermajority in each house of Congress. Similarly, a two-thirds vote will be the threshold for both creating new taxes and increasing existing ones. And the periodic, kick-the-can debt ceiling dramas? Well, the limit won’t increase without — you guessed it — a two-thirds majority.
Lastly, Lee’s BBA has what might be called an automatic trigger: Any Member of Congress is granted standing and a cause of action to enforce it in court, upon acquiring the signatures of one-third the members of either body. If the political class — of either party — tries an end-run on spending caps, conservatives have a backstop: the Federal Judiciary.
It’s a liberal spend-o-crat’s worst nightmare, which is all the reason any conservative could need to get behind Mike Lee’s BBA.
Six years ago, Rick Santelli launched the tea party movement with his “Stop the spending!” rant, which resonated all across Middle America. We’ve come a long way, and there’s a lot more work to do. The beginning of the 114th Congress is the ideal time to take the first step in restoring fiscal sanity; we urge all grass-roots conservatives to reach out to their senators and representatives, asking them to support S.J. Res 2.
Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, Want More Stories Like This? Subscribe to our Thought Leaders Newsletter.