Q: Why did you re-introduce the Balanced Budget Amendment?
A: Iowans work hard for their money. As a taxpayer watchdog, I conduct congressional oversight to root out wasteful spending and as a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, support budgetary tools to restore fiscal discipline. The federal budgeting system is broken. Big spenders in Washington have an insatiable appetite for big government programs that cost a lot of money. No matter how outsized their liberal laundry list becomes, they’re satisfied to tax, spend and borrow as much as it takes to pay for it. This reckless approach keeps adding trillions of dollars to the nation’s debt. And when moments of national emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic, require a surge in federal spending, the long-term harm of annual deficit spending swells even more, saddling future generations with even more debt. According to the nonpartisan budget scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal deficit in fiscal year 2020 reached nearly 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the largest since the end of World War II. The annual deficit is the gap between revenue and spending. The sum total of the deficit from one year to the next makes up the federal debt. The CBO projects the federal debt held by the public will exceed 100 percent of GDP in 2021. A bigger debt puts U.S. taxpayers on the hook for bigger interest payments, reaching $345 billion last year. The federal government is spending nearly $1 billion a day just on interest payments. Less borrowing costs means more dollars would be available for tax relief or to beef up public health or infrastructure spending. Even more troubling, however, rising federal debt makes the economy susceptible to rising interest rates. That’s bad news for private sector borrowers, Main Street businesses, farmers and families. In times of national crisis, such as war, recession, natural disaster or public health emergency, the federal government must be able to respond with emergency spending. For example, since last March, pandemic-related spending has delivered a financial lifeline to unemployed individuals, families, small businesses and farmers while also providing funding for safety net programs, vaccine development and medical supplies for frontline workers and health professionals. Economic contraction from the pandemic and trillions of dollars in new federal spending piled on more federal debt. While this spending was necessary to help working families and small businesses, we would be in much better shape if this spending was the only debt we needed to repay, rather than compounding the problem and leading to even larger interest payments. Even during times of health and prosperity, Congress lacks the fiscal discipline to balance the books. In January, I reintroduced a balanced budget amendment, as I have every new Congress for years. Congress needs constitutional guardrails to put the federal government on a fiscally sustainable path with safety valves available for national emergencies.
Q: How would a Balanced Budget Amendment function?
A: It’s a tall order to get an amendment added to our founding charter. In fact, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times, including the first 10 known as the Bill of Rights. The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. None of the 27 amendments to the Constitution has been proposed by constitutional convention. When approved by two-thirds of the Congress, the amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. A federal balanced budget amendment is not a new idea. Most recently, the closest the Senate has come to meeting the 67-vote threshold was in 1997, when it fell short by one vote. I’ll keep fighting for fiscal discipline. Our children and grandchildren don’t deserve to inherit an $85,000 tab to pay off our debts. My amendment would require Congress to spend no more than it collects during any fiscal year and limit spending to 18 percent of the gross national product, the 40-year historical average of total federal receipts. It includes a safety valve for national emergencies. Congress would be empowered to run a deficit, raise taxes or increase the debt limit if agreed to by two-thirds of both the House and Senate. Finally, the amendment would allow any member of Congress to seek judicial enforcement of the balanced budget requirement as long as the lawmaker has received approval to do so by a petition signed by one-third of either the House or the Senate. A balanced budget amendment would provide a much-needed constitutional check on out-of-control spending. Requiring lawmakers to tighten the fiscal belt would restore the nation’s fiscal health. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 49 states have requirements in place to balance their budgets. It’s entirely reasonable that Congress be required to live within its means just like Americans do, especially considering the public purse is filled with taxpayer dollars.