Over the last five years, federal spending increased from nearly 20% as a share of the economy to 24.7% as the government’s expenditures grew from $2.47 trillion to $3.52 trillion—a 42 percent increase. These are the highest levels of spending as a share of the economy since World War II. Such high levels of spending have seriously worsened federal budget deficits, which have grown from $318.3 billion in 2005 to $1.4 trillion in 2009. And with such borrowing, the national debt has ballooned, growing from $7.3 trillion to $11.9 trillion—a five-year increase equal to the nation’s entire accumulation of debt from the presidencies of George Washington to Bill Clinton.
There is no language succinctly draconian enough draconian language to describe the situation with the federal deficit. It is the number one problem facing the United States today-Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)
That’s how Congressman Hensarling introduced a constitutional Amendment to limit spending and the size of government to a conference call he ran with Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) explaining to select bloggers the background surrounding their proposal.
Cong. Hensarling admitted that the problem did not start under the current administration, but pointed out that the monthly deficits we are running now are equivalent to the annual deficits run by the previous administration. “We have a moral obligation to put our nation’s fiscal house in order,” The Texas Congressman said. “That is why I am proud to introduce the Spending Limit Amendment with Representatives Jeb Hensarling and John Campbell. The Spending Limit Amendment will give the American people a unique opportunity to define the size and scope of the federal government for future generations. I urge the American people, and every Member of Congress, to support the Spending Limit Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
Previous attempts at amending the Constitution have been to mandate that the budget be balanced. This is not a “balanced budget” Amendment, it’s much more “out of the box” than that. This proposal is to limit federal spending to 20% of GNP. “This is more focused than “balanced” budget,” explained Congressman Hensarling. Congressman Pence added, “A balanced budget amendment only forces the to be balanced, this amendment limits the growth of government also. Its not just about achieving actuary perfection, its about limiting the size a government.
Henserling followed up by saying, “I would rather see a budget at 20% GDP that doesn’t balance the budget than one at 40% that does because as government expands, freedom contracts.”
The text of this amendment is:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within ten years after the date of its submission for ratification:
SECTION 1. Total annual outlays shall not exceed one-fifth of economic output of the United States of America, unless two-thirds of each House of Congress shall provide for a specific increase of outlays above this amount. Total outlays shall include all outlays of the United States Government, except for those for repayment of debt prin1cipal.
SECTION 2. The Congress may waive the provisions of this article while a declaration of war is in effect.
SECTION 3. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation
SECTION 4. This article shall take effect beginning the fifth fiscal year after its ratification.
Despite the logic of this proposed amendment, the chances of this (or any) Constitutional Amendment being ratified is slim. Since the constitution was ratified in 1789 around 5,000 amendments were proposed only 27 were passed (and the first ten were passed in one shot). Further weighted against this amendment is both houses of congress are dominated by Progressive Democrats. To these folks any proposal limiting spending is like Kryptonite to Superman.
Congressman Hensarling spoke about the difficulty of getting this Amendment through. He knows it is a long shot, but even if it does not pass, he hopes that it will lead to a national debate about the size of spending and the size of government.
Legislation alone won’t work. Congress recently passed the “pay as you go” (paygo) legislation. Within a week of passing that bill, they were voting on a jobs bill that broke the Paygo provisions. The SLA would enshrine into the Constitution a principle long-ignored by politicians that federal spending should not grow faster than a family’s ability to pay for it. It would force them to make the tough decisions and to not add extra-constitutional powers to the Federal Government. Only a constitutional amendment would ensure that Congress cannot waive or ignore the limit with a mere majority, a common practice with past statutory restraints.