Balanced Budget Amendment Can Put an End to Lack of Leadership
The wave of cynicism and outright anger that is alive and well across our nation is a red-hot indicator that Americans feel they're being shortchanged on leadership from Washington. Real leadership requires courage, intelligence and cooperation from those we put in charge. In this age of hyper-partisanship, it's no wonder today's problems go unresolved and future problems continue to be ignored.
Today our national debt stands at more than $17 trillion. That's a mind-numbing measure of the challenge facing our republic -- a challenge stemming solely from a system and its elected leaders who don't seem to be able to make the tough decisions necessary to start ticking that 11-digit number down to zero.
Seventeen trillion dollars! For many, that's a number too big to get your head around. But it's real, it's massive and dealing with its consequences is our future challenge. We may not see our personal share of it itemized on our pay stubs, but make no mistake, our growing debt and deficit weigh us down and hold us back as individuals, as families and as a nation. They are claims on our future income and potential. Getting out from under them requires dramatically changing how America conducts its business. A federal balanced budget amendment is the change we need, and we need it now.
A balanced federal budget isn't a pipedream or some crazy economic theory that will never come to pass. Our home states of Ohio and Minnesota balance their budgets thanks to constitutional requirements, as does nearly every other state in the nation. In fact, Ohio had to manage its way through a record-high $8 billion budget shortfall just three years ago. That deficit was successfully eliminated not by raising taxes and not by resorting to gimmicks, but instead making tough policy choices by bringing about efficiencies throughout its operations and providing better quality at a lower cost in Medicaid.
Washington has had balanced budgets before as well. It can be done, but it takes the will to act. We know. In the 1990s we both served in Congress and, despite being from opposing political parties, we shared a commitment to a balanced budget. We were part of a bipartisan effort with the White House that helped pave the way, in 1997, to the first balanced budget since men walked on the moon. There were, of course, disagreements along the way but they never overshadowed the shared goal of fiscal responsibility and seeing our country live within its means.
Somewhere along the line, Washington took its eye off the ball. For too many on the national stage, fiery speeches became more important than smart policy, and leadership was replaced by political survivalism. The result is ever-worsening gridlock that blocks needed work to get our fiscal house back in order.
It's time to force Washington to focus on the essential priority of sound fiscal management and balance the federal budget every year. Fortunately, the U.S. Constitution empowers states to trigger this kind of change and we are seeing a recent wave of state's call for a convention to pass an amendment to require a balanced budget, including Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan and Louisiana. By one count, twenty-four states have passed resolutions and 10 more states are needed to put this in motion. If that amendment is then approved by 38 states, we can have the same accountability at the federal level that we have at the state level.
Admittedly the Constitution has worked well for more than two centuries; we shouldn't tinker with it lightly. The high number of states required to initiate this process -- and then approve the product of it -- stand as a safe barrier against things going in an unintended direction. When, however, Washington's level of fiscal irresponsibility reaches the heights it has, with little hope that Washington can fix itself, this type of intervention should be considered. Hopefully Congress will simply initiate a balanced budget amendment itself and send it to the states for ratification, but in the event that doesn't happen the states need to get things going themselves.
If you are one of the many Americans left cynical and frustrated by Washington, and worried about damage being done to our futures by the debt and deficits that keep piling up, we encourage you to speak up. Let's hope Washington will take action on its own to show leadership on this important issue, but unfortunately this back-stop looks necessary today. Unless our leaders hear from us, they will not act. And without a balanced budget amendment, the status quo wins and future generations lose.
John R. Kasich (R) has served as Ohio governor since January 2011, helping Ohio close an $8 billion budget shortfall and restore its fiscal stability. He served as a member of Congress from 1983-2001 and, as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, he was chief architect of the effort to balance the federal budget for the first time since 1969. Last fall, Ohio became the 20th state to pass a resolution calling for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Timothy Penny (D) represented Minnesota's First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982-1994. Throughout his congressional career, Penny placed an emphasis on budget issues. He chaired the Democratic Budget Group as well as the Porkbusters Coalition.