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A Letter to Senators Hatch and Cornyn

by Pete Sepp / /

TheHonorable Orrin Hatch
TheHonorable John Cornyn
UnitedStates Senate
Washington,DC 20510

DearSenators Hatch and Cornyn:

     Onbehalf of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), I write to offerour wholehearted support for S.J. Res. 3, a constitutional amendment to requirea balanced federal budget as well as establish protections against runawaytaxes, spending, and debt. If passed, your amendment would represent the singlemost important taxpayer victory in this Congress.

     Sinceits founding in 1969, NTU’s most fundamental and enduring goal has been toestablish constitutional limits on the size and future growth of government. Throughoutthe 1970s and 1980s, my organization helped to launch and sustain the movementfor a limited Article V amendment convention among the states to propose aBalanced Budget Amendment (BBA) for ratification, all while pursuing a BBAthrough Congress. Our members were elated over the passage of S.J. Res. 58 in1982, and the passage of H.J. Res. 1 in 1995 through the House ofRepresentatives. In both cases the measures, whose provisions varied somewhat,fell short of enactment in the other chambers of Congress.

     Irecall these efforts as an illustration of how prescient the arguments of BBAadvocates such as yourselves have proven to be, and how specious those of youropponents have been.  For the better partof 40 years, we were told that fiscal discipline would evolve simply by“electing the right people,” all while Republican and Democratic Presidents andCongresses abused the nation’s good credit. We were told that statutorymeasures would bring outlays under control, even as laws such as theGramm-Rudman Hollings Act were trampled underfoot. We were told that our foundationaldocument shouldn’t be “cluttered” with mundane matters of budgeting, even asthe tax and spend culture in Washington eroded the foundations of prosperityfor current and future generations. 

     Alarmingfiscal developments such as these have rarely abated, and have largelyaccelerated. Last week’s Congressional Budget Office Fiscal Year 2011 projectionof a $1.5 trillion deficit is perilous in its own right; yet, the federalgovernment has seen deficits during 44 of the last 50 years. This fact ought togive pause even to die-hard Keynesians, who believe surpluses should be thenorm in most economic growth cycles.

     Thenotion that limits on taxes and spending are too trivial for the Constitutionseems quaint today, as our national debt tests the ominous level of 100 percentof the nation’s economic output. Unsustainable entitlement programs, whose direcondition has been known for at least 20 years now, threaten to heapunfathomable burdens on taxpayers. BBA naysayers sought to derail the constitutionalbudgetary discipline that could have made adjustments to the realities of theseprograms gradual and bearable, all while they complained that the measure would“take too long to ratify” for it to have any salutary effect. The question nowbefore Congress is, how could our Constitution not be allowed to contribute toward restoring our nation’sfiscal stability? The fiscal crisis our government faces overwhelminglydemonstrates the continued relevance of a BBA to curing the maladies thatthreaten the health of our economy.

     Yourproposal contains some of the strongest BBA provisions we have ever seen. It includesa two-thirds “supermajority” vote requirement if Members of Congress wish toapprove deficit spending or tax increases, whereas most BBAs have set thedeficit-exception threshold at three-fifths. The measure also includes anexplicit limitation on federal spending, set at 20 percent of Gross DomesticProduct. Although economic measurements such as these can be subject to interpretation,we believe that thoughtfully designed mechanism, one which helps to keep expendituresat affordable levels can be a desirable feature of a constitutional amendment. Moreover,your legislation provides the right balance of flexibility and inclusiveness,with sensible exemptions for wartime situations and a stipulation that theExecutive Branch must do some lifting of its own by proposing a balanced budgetto Congress.

     Asyou know, NTU has supported, and will continue to support, various BBA conceptsas they enter the public square. For example, we were pleased to note theintroduction of H.J. Res. 1 by your House colleague, Bob Goodlatte. Thisamendment bears several similarities to your own, among them an expenditurelimitation. Additionally, Representative Goodlatte has introduced H.J. Res. 2,whose elements are virtually identical to the BBA that his chamber enacted in1995. Given our past history of advocacy for this amendment, we believe thatH.J. Res. 2, though less comprehensive than your own bill, would provideacceptable progress toward solid budget reform. Furthermore, NTU has endorsedthe Vote on Taxes Amendment, which incorporates a voter approval requirement asa check against deficit spending and higher taxes. This vehicle is wielding itsway through the Article V amendment convention process.

     Despite these many facets of ourcampaign for constitutional fiscal discipline, some plans will no doubt becalled “Balanced Budget Amendments” by their sponsors without being worthy ofthe name. For example, any plan with weaker exemption clauses than H.J. Res. 2,or legislation that would exclude the Social Security Trust Fund from balanced-budgetcalculations, would earn NTU’s strident opposition.

     Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to ourConstitution …; I mean an additional article, taking from the federalgovernment the power of borrowing.” No proposal in Congress today would guarantee such an outcome – an endto deficit spending. What your legislation will guarantee is a moredeliberative, accountable budgeting process that avoids the rash impulse to taxor borrow and encourages consensus-building toward spending restraint. Constitutions shouldn’t make policy, but they should set rules withinwhich policymakers operate and they should safeguard the rights of citizens. Ifthe fundamental right – of every generation – to be free of excessive federaldebt cannot be protected by our Constitution, little else in that preciousdocument will matter. Jefferson would certainly agree. Thus, the past, present,and future all speak clearly to us on behalf of this reform.  

     NTU is proud to endorse yourBalanced Budget Amendment, and we pledge our maximum effort toward theenactment of the best possible BBA. Any roll call votes pertaining to S.J. Res.3 will be among the most heavily weighted in our annual rating of Congress.

Sincerely,

PeteSepp
Executive VicePresident