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My view: No balanced budget amendment

By George Chapman

Published: Wednesday, July 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Rep. Carl Wimmer ("Fixing the national debt: The cut, cap and balance pledge," July 3) argued for a balanced budget amendment for the United States.

Thomas Jefferson was one of the first to suggest, in 1798, that there should be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to require a federal balanced budget. Jefferson reasoned that such an amendment would stop foreign wars and would stop the creation of a standing army that could be used to keep a president in office (which was a concern at that time). Although a standing army was created, President Adams soon disbanded it.

But as president, Jefferson realized that the United States could become a greater nation by borrowing to buy the Louisiana Territory and to fight the Barbary Pirates. One reason that we changed from a confederacy to a constitutional republic was that the federal government could fund projects that the individual States could not and would not. Jefferson complained about the lack of funding to fight the Barbary Pirates in 1786.

Although he later expressed concern for burdening subsequent generations with the debts generated by previous administrations, he realized that the great advances and building of this nation sometimes required borrowing.

The United States is a great nation because we borrowed money to fund reasonable and visionary projects such as Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, Teddy Roosevelt's Panama Canal, Roosevelt's World War II and Manhattan Project, Eisenhower's national highway system, Kennedy's moon and space exploration, Reagan's star wars (that caused the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union), Bush's war against al-Qaida and the Taliban and the bank bailout that stopped a depression.

The immigration of the Mormons to Utah was also partially funded by borrowing for the Mexican-American War.

The suggestions of requiring a balanced budget each year for the federal government ignores the history of the great accomplishments of the United States. Most of the accomplishments were controversial when first conceived. The Louisiana Purchase came within two votes of not being approved.

A federal balanced budget would probably close Hill Air Force Base which barely survived the last base closings (Who is going to invade Utah?). According to the Consolidated Federal Funds Report, Utah gets almost $2 billion from Defense Department spending.

Utah also directly benefits from borrowing to fund highway infrastructure. Utah may also borrow to fund upgrading schools to make them earthquake proof. Burdening future generations with our borrowing makes sense when they benefit from the increased safety of such projects and the buildings and projects allow our children to be better off than we are. Our mass transit/UTA rail projects all required borrowing and federal funding.

Although many in Congress have suggested cutting discretionary funding without cutting military budgets, the only recent balanced budgets occurred when the United States significantly decreased military spending after the Cold War.

Without borrowing, the Depression of the 1930s would have been deeper, World War II would have been even worse, man wouldn't have walked on the moon, the Soviet Union would still exist, the 1980s' savings and loan crisis would have plunged the U.S. into another depression, we would be in a depression now and Louisiana and Utah would not be part of these United States.

George Chapman is a resident of Salt Lake City.

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