The recent failure of the “super-committee” to reach a deal on federal spending cuts is just the latest example of how ill-equipped Congress is to address our nation’s gravest challenge: our ballooning $15 trillion national debt. Democrats and Republicans still are stuck in the same rhetorical trenches. Democrats are reluctant to cut entitlements while Republicans claim we can cut taxes and balance our books.
To reduce our debt by the amount economists recommend — $4 trillion throughout 10 years — we need to combine budget cuts with comprehensive reforms to our tax code and entitlement programs. But I also believe it’s critical that we go a step further to ensure we’re never in this position again. That’s why I proposed a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
I was disappointed when the Senate voted against my constitutional balanced budget amendment, but I’m not discouraged. My proposal makes common sense. It would allow deficits only when three-fifths of the House and Senate vote to address severe economic downturns or other emergencies; discourage deficit-busting tax breaks; and create a Social Security “lockbox,” preventing Congress from raiding the trust fund to hide the true size of our annual deficits.
There are more than 20 similar bills pending in Congress, but I believe mine best reflects what Coloradans, and all Americans, want. Despite the Senate’s vote, I’m going to keep fighting to get our country back on a sustainable fiscal track. I vow to bring this bill back to the floor.
Our country’s founders deliberately made it difficult to amend the Constitution, and fighting to pass this balanced budget amendment is not a step I take lightly. Nevertheless, the situation we face requires a balanced solution enshrined in the Constitution that will hold our government accountable for paying its bill, without strangling our economy in the process.
A balanced budget amendment alone can’t solve our current debt and deficit problems. I have fought for responsible budget tools, such as presidential line-item veto authority, pay-as-you-go spending rules and a process by which Congress would regularly evaluate government spending and identify wasteful programs. I also led a bipartisan effort to create the president’s blue-ribbon commission on debt reduction, headed by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY). As part of a bipartisan group in Congress pushing for this “go big” plan, we need to take up and pass their plan immediately, or risk the same debt-induced economic turmoil that now is shaking Europe.
But we also need a balanced budget requirement to ensure we never get into this situation again. And it will require bipartisan support here in Washington and across the country.
We have an opportunity to leave our country in a sounder fiscal position. If we fail to act, we risk our competitive edge, national security and place a great burden on our children. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting a common-sense balanced budget amendment that will put our nation on a more stable economic path. Our country’s future prosperity depends on it.
Mark Udall is a Democratic U.S. senator from Colorado.