A decades-long fight for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget began anew Friday as a Senate panel endorsed a version co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution voted 4-2 to support the version supported by Hatch, which was introduced by Subcommittee Chairman Paul Simon, D-Ill. The panel also endorsed a second version of the balanced-budget amendment introduced by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.Both bills now go to the full Judiciary Committee, which will decide which - if either - should proceed to the full Senate.
Both bills would require the president to submit a balanced budget - and Congress to pass one - unless three-fifths of both houses vote to waive the requirement in any given year.
The Simon-Hatch amendment would also require any bill that would increase revenues to be approved by a majority of both houses (not just those present and voting).
It would also automatically waive requirements for a balanced budget during declared war, but Specter's bill would require the president to request such a waiver and the Congress to approve it.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last year passed out a balanced-bud- get amendment, but it never came to a vote before the full Senate. The House voted on a similar measure, but it fell seven votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Even if the amendment passes by two-thirds in both houses, three-fourths of the states then need to ratify within seven years. Hatch has campaigned nationwide in recent years for states to call for a constitutional convention to draft such an amendment, hoping that will spur Congress into action.
Hatch, a member of the subcommittee, said, "During the past 22 years, the federal government has run deficits in all but a single year (1969). . .. The total national debt now stands over $3.2 trillion, with about two-thirds of that total incurred during the past decade alone."
He said huge deficits have come because "members of Congress do not have to cast votes in behalf of new taxes in order to accommodate new spending programs. Rather than having to cast such politically disadvantageous votes, Congress has been able to resort to increased levels of deficit spending."
Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., added, "As the debt now stands, a child or young adult on average can expect to pay over $100,000 in extra taxes to cover interest payments on the debt during his or her lifetime. Each year we run a $200 billion deficit, another $8,000 is added to that figure."
Simon added that paying interest on the deficit is now for the first time the largest single expenditure by the government, now passing even defense spending.
National debt facts
- National debt is now $3.2 trillion.
- Average American child (during his/her lifetime) will pay $100,000 in extra taxes to pay for interest on debt.
- During the past 22 years, Congress has balanced the budget only once. That was in 1969.
- Interest on the national debt is the single largest budget expenditure - even more than defense spending.