Congressman Peter Roskam

Representing the 6th District of Illinois

An Amendment To Balance Our Budget More Crucial Than Ever

Jul 14, 2011
Opinion Piece
With $14 trillion in debt, sustained unemployment over 9 percent and a liberal Washington orthodoxy that demands continuously higher borrowing and spending, America is on the verge of drowning in red ink. Washington’s inability to control spending creates daunting obstacles to job creation in the short term while threatening America’s very being in the long term. 

Although there is never a shortage of new and diverging opinions in Washington, sometimes the best remedy is a simple return to our basic principles. It’s time for Washington to get serious about a balanced-budget amendment. 

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to Ben Franklin, balancing the budget united America’s founders. Nearly 200 years later, in the 1980s, President Reagan declared his support for a balanced-budget amendment, stating “only a constitutional amendment will do the job. We’ve tried the carrot, and it failed. With the stick of a balanced-budget amendment, we can stop government’s squandering, overtaxing ways, and save our economy.” Thirteen years later, in 1995, Congress came just one vote shy of passing a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget.

Almost 30 years after Reagan’s declaration and 16 years after Congress’s doomed vote, government is still recklessly borrowing, spending and overtaxing. Our national debt is nearly $14.3 trillion — higher than any time in American history, and growing at an alarming rate. Now, Congress has the chance to get it right. 

Congress has tried cutting and capping spending before, but the same old Washington playbook invariably plays out. Once out of the news, politics trump principles, and the spending binge continues full steam ahead. 

One of the many lessons of the failed “stimulus” is that spending pledges and statutory caps are easily cast aside and overrun as “emergency spending” arises. Don’t be fooled, though — American families know they can’t engage in “emergency spending.” If your credit cards are maxed out, spending more isn’t an option in the real world. The hard truth is that we can no longer afford the tired status quo of Washington policies and politicians that kick the can down the road, choosing self-preservation over America’s future. That’s why we need the balanced-budget amendment. 

A constitutional mandate would legally bind both the president and Congress to produce annual budgets that spend no more than the government takes in. It would end the explosive annual deficits that have ballooned to record levels. Last year alone, under President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress, our annual deficit was $1.4 trillion, and we’re paying billions in interest on the borrowing for the failed $800 billion “stimulus” bill from the year before. These figures are unconscionable, and only the legal force of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget will guarantee a change in our fiscal course.

Our country is at a crossroads. We already borrow 40 cents on every dollar — much of it from the Chinese — while choosing to “bill later” by sending it to our children and grandchildren. That’s why every child born today already owes more than $46,000 to our creditors, and that number is only growing. 

Choosing to do nothing and continuing Washington’s status quo would have devastating effects in the near and long term. A few weeks ago, the Congressional Budget Office reported that our debt would reach 101 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product and risks a “sudden fiscal crisis” if our debt continues to go unaddressed. Washington’s fiscal mismanagement imperils the prosperity of future generations of Americans. We must not allow this to happen. It is our generation’s responsibility to prevent this nightmare from becoming reality. 

We must act now in order to remove obstacles to job creation and restore certainty in our economy and America’s competitive spirit. And we simply need to stop spending money we don’t have. A balanced-budget amendment would help ensure that we restore our economy, get our fiscal house in order and save the American dream for future generations.