WASHINGTON - Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a bipartisan measure, H.J.Res 2, which if enacted would add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This bill was supported by 261 members of the House as it is a simple, effective, and common sense method of forcing the federal government to live within its means. With the federal government borrowing over 40 cents of every dollar it spends, many in Northern Michigan are concerned their children and grandchildren will be burdened by unending debt and left with a weakened America.
The concept of a balanced budget amendment is not new. Shortly after a balanced budget amendment failed by one vote in the Senate in 1995, then President Bill Clinton stated such a constitutional measure was not necessary to reduce the federal deficit. That was a simple statement over a decade ago when the government actually experienced surpluses, and the prospect of running trillion dollar deficits seemed unimaginable. Regrettably, since those words were spoken, the federal debt has grown by $9.2 trillion. Today, the national debt has exceeded $15 trillion - equivalent to more than $48,000 per individual in America.
There is no doubt the federal government is marred in fiscal trouble and that Congress has been a very poor steward of America's precious taxpayer money. Divorced from a personal connection with the American electorate, too many representatives in Washington - both Democrats and Republicans - have simply spent without restraint. Many politicians seem not to understand the concept that one cannot forever spend more money than one makes and expect to survive.
Rep. Dan Benishek
Ultimately, the debate over controlling the federal government's excessive spending is about the economy. Record federal deficits have paralyzed the job market and are drowning out hope of real private sector economic growth. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "the sooner that long term changes to spending and revenues are agreed on, and the sooner they are carried out once the economic weakness ends, the smaller the damage to the economy from growing federal debt."
With unemployment at 9 percent nationally and over 13 percent in the First District, I do not believe we can end this economic stagnation without addressing the spending problems that have plagued the federal government for decades. I believe this requires not only a structural change in the way Congress spends money, but a fundamental shift in the way Washington values tax dollars. Revenues come from the sacrifice of America's working citizens. As such, Congress is morally obligated to ensure not one penny is wasted. The first step in ensuring this obligation is met is by mandating that Washington cannot spend money it does not have.
I believe the addition of a balanced budget amendment is long overdue. Congress has been debating this issue for centuries while the federal debt has continued to pile up. I am reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson - frustrated as many people today - who in 1789 stated, "I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government; I mean an additional article taking from the federal government the power of borrowing."
What the past several decades has taught us is that Washington politicians have shown no restraint in spending America's hard earned tax dollars. Based on the evidence, unless Congress is handcuffed by the supreme law of the land, there may be little hope we can bring this country's fiscal house in order.
If no action is taken, this country will continue toward a future of "Euro Style" debt and future generations of Americans will undoubtedly suffer from the financial sins of their parents. My hope is that more of my colleagues in the House and Senate will listen to the American people and support a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
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Rep. Dan Benishek is a general surgeon and is serving in his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives.