I remember during high school sitting at the kitchen table with my mom, looking at a checkbook with my name on the upper left. It was a moment when I felt like an adult; I could write a check. My mom taught me how to write and endorse the check and how to keep track of checks in the register. While this process seems arcane in the current world of check cards and online banking, it was a valuable process for me. In the earliest days, my mom was also connected to my checking account, so she had a very personal stake in my future fiscal responsibility. If I had an overdraft, she would have an overdraft. Mom made sure I kept my checkbook balanced, under penalty of long protracted painful grounding.
If that principle works in a family, it can work for a nation.
Currently, Congress is the juvenile with the checkbook, and the American people are the co-signers of every check. To put fiscal restraint on Congress, you need more than the threat of being grounded – you need a real enforcement tool. Over the years, members of Congress have tried to quench free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms and more; the only thing that held them back was the American people and the clear dictate of the United States Constitution.
Congress has gone on a spending binge and failed to plan for the future. After three straight years of trillion dollar-plus budget deficits, our debt has skyrocketed to $14.5 trillion, and it has been 905 days since the Senate even passed a budget. Twelve years ago, we could have made a few difficult choices to balance our budget within a couple years. Now our financial situation is so dire that it will take at least a decade to bring our national books into balance. Each year that we postpone the difficult choices, the options for solutions shrink. The last time Congress voted on a balanced budget amendment was 1995, when it failed by a single vote. Imagine how different 2008 would have been if our nation had balanced it’s budget since 1996.
A balanced budget amendment would require Congress to submit a budget on time each year and with a spending outline that does not run a deficit. It would provide the stability and fiscal soundness that has been missing and causing of so many of our problems. If Congress has a stable budget, American families and businesses can plan for the future with confidence. When Congress continues to wait until the last minute to act or has multiple continuing resolutions, we cannot plan for the future. These issues will be corrected when Congress is no longer given the leeway to punt on the tough decisions and then overdraft the nation’s account.
Both the House and Senate will vote this fall on a balanced budget amendment, and I will be working hard with my colleagues to round up the necessary two-thirds vote needed for passage. This is an opportunity that rarely comes along, and we cannot let it pass us by. We must use the power of the Constitution to bring the parent back in the room and ensure a better future for our children.
Editor’s Note: This column was first published by OKC Friday.