Q: Given the exaggerated focus on the presidency this time of year, what is an example of another way to affect positive change?
A: Amend the Constitution to balance the budget
A big reason our nation has not only survived but also prospered (largely) for more than two centuries is that our Constitution limits government power, allowing individual freedom to flourish. The separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments prevent Washington — and the states — from trampling individual rights.
Even so, there are few limits on how deeply Washington can dip into our wallets or how recklessly it can borrow money. That’s how federal politicians have run up $16 trillion in official public debt.
Politicians cannot be trusted, so we need an institutional check to force Washington to live within its means: a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Every state but Vermont has a constitutional requirement to balance its budget. The federal government should, too. Balancing the federal budget would limit the scope of government programs to the ones we can afford.
In 1995, by a margin of 300-132, the House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to submit a balanced budget every year unless 60 percent of both houses authorized deficit spending for that fiscal year. The following year the Senate fell one vote short of sending the amendment to the states for ratification.
The 60 percent safety valve in that amendment would not have ended deficit spending. It would have made it more difficult, however, for Washington to add new debt — and required politicians to be accountable for new deficits by forcing a roll-call vote on each year’s budget.
So far, 32 state legislatures (including our own General Assembly) have petitioned Congress to call a constitutional convention for the purpose of enacting a balanced budget amendment. Thirty-four are needed to force Washington’s hand. Perhaps profligate spending from the two most recent administrations will bring two more states on board and give the people a new defense against reckless indebtedness.
This is a response to a question about whether there is a moral obligation to vote, asked by Everything Questioned. Check back Friday to see who wrote this response, find more views at EQ's homepage, and share your thoughts through comments or by submitting a 300-word response to Austin Baird.