Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committe Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today issued the following remarks in support of his proposed Balanced Budget Amendment (H.J.Res. 2).
Chairman Goodlatte: March 2, 1995, was a pivotal day in the history of our country. On that day, the U.S. Senate failed by one vote to send a balanced budget constitutional amendment to the states for ratification. The amendment had passed the House by the required two-thirds majority and the Senate vote was the last legislative hurdle before ratification by the states.
If Congress had listened to the American people and sent that amendment to the states for ratification, we would not be facing the fiscal crisis we are today. Rather, balancing the federal budget would have been the norm, instead of the exception over the past 20 years and we would have nothing like the annual deficits and skyrocketing debt we currently face.
In 1995, when the balanced budget amendment came within one vote of passing, the gross federal debt stood at $4.9 trillion; today it stands at over $20 trillion. The federal debt held by the public is rising as well and is increasing rapidly as a percentage of the country’s economic output. Unlike the past, when the debt spiked to pay for wars of finite duration and then was reduced gradually after hostilities ended—more recently, the debt has risen as a result of having to pay for entitlement programs that are of indefinite duration and difficult to reduce over time.
As John Cogan of the Hoover Institute at Stanford wrote recently, “all of the increase in federal spending relative to GDP over the past seven decades is attributable to entitlement spending. Since the late 1940s, entitlement claims on the nation’s output of goods and services have risen from less than 4% to 14%. Surprising as it may seem, the share of GDP that is spent on national defense and nondefense discretionary programs combined is no higher today than it was seven decades ago.”
As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has observed, “such high and rising debt [will] have serious negative consequences … interest rates [will] increase considerably … productivity and wages [will be] lower … [and] high debt increases the risk of a financial crisis.”
What is particularly troubling is that the debts we are incurring under entitlement programs will burden multiple future generations. Indeed, a few years ago a cross-national study found that the United States ranked worst among 29 advanced countries in the degree to which it imposes unfair debt burdens on future generations.
University of Virginia philosophy professor Loren Lomasky has written, “Theorists have devoted considerable attention to injustices committed across lines of race [and] gender … Far less attended are concerns of intergenerational fairness. That omission is serious. Measures that have done very well by the Baby Boomers are much less generous to their children and worse still for their grandchildren … [T]he single greatest unsolved problem of justice in the developed world today is transgenerational plunder.” It’s time for Congress to stop saddling future generations with the burden of crushing debts to pay for current spending. We should not pass on to our children and grandchildren the bleak fiscal future that our unsustainable spending is creating.
The only way to ensure that Congress acts with fiscal restraint over the long term is to pass a balanced budget amendment. Experience has proved time and again that Congress cannot for any significant length of time rein in excessive spending. Annual deficits and the resulting debt continue to grow due to political pressures that the Constitution’s structure no longer serves to restrain.
In order for Congress to be able to consistently make the tough decisions necessary to sustain fiscal responsibility, Congress must have the external pressure of a balanced budget requirement to force it to do so. Constitutional principle will prevail where political promises have not.
The Framers of the Constitution were familiar with the need for constitutional restrictions on deficit spending. When the Constitution was ratified, it was the states that had exhibited out-of-control fiscal mismanagement by issuing “bills of credit” to effectively print money to pay for projects and service debt. As a result of that lack of fiscal discipline, Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution specifically deprives states of the power to issue bills of credit. Over two hundred years later, it is the federal government that has proved its inability to adopt sound fiscal policies and it’s now time to adopt a constitutional restraint on federal fiscal mismanagement.
Several versions of the balanced budget amendment have been introduced this Congress, including two I introduced this Congress as I have every Congress for the last decade. H.J. Res. 2−the version we are debating today is nearly identical to text that passed the House in 1995 and failed in the Senate by one vote. It requires that total annual outlays not exceed total annual receipts. It also requires a true majority of each chamber to pass tax increases and a three-fifths majority to raise the debt limit.
Today is the day we can turn proposals into legislative action. Our extraordinary fiscal crisis demands an extraordinary solution. We must rise above partisanship and join together to send a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.
I urge all my colleagues to join me in supporting this amendment and in freeing our children and grandchildren from the burden of a crippling debt they had no hand in creating, so they can be free to chart their own futures for themselves and for their own posterity.