Floor Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Nov 17, 2011 -
Americans want the federal government to stop excessive government spending and reduce the federal deficit.
The last time the budget was balanced was during the Clinton Administration, when Republicans in Congress passed the first balanced budget in over 25 years. Meanwhile, the federal debt has climbed from less than $400 billion in 1970 to over $15 trillion today.
President Obama has set the wrong kind of new record. The national debt has increased faster under his administration than under any other president in history.
America cannot continue to run huge federal budget deficits. Financing federal overspending through continued borrowing threatens to drown Americans in high taxes and heavy debt. And it puts a drag on the economy.
The federal government now borrows 42 cents for every dollar it spends. No family, no community, no business, no country can sustain that kind of excessive spending. That is the road to insolvency.
Unfortunately, this kind of bad behavior has gone unchecked for so long that it has become the norm. The federal government has been on a decades-long shopping spree, racking up the bills and leaving them for future generations.
We need a constitutional mandate to force both the President and Congress to adopt annual budgets that spend no more than the government takes in. Only a balanced budget constitutional amendment will save us from unending federal deficits.
Just as both parties have joint responsibility for the deficit, we must jointly take responsibility for controlling the deficit by passing this balanced budget amendment.
We came very close to passing this balanced budget amendment in 1995 – falling just one vote short in the Senate of the required two-thirds majority. In that Congress, the amendment was supported by Congressman Hoyer, now Minority Whip, Congressman Clyburn, now Assistant Democratic Leader, and Senator Joseph Biden, now Vice President.
As then-Senator Biden stated in support of the balanced budget amendment,
“… in recent decades, we have faced the problem that we do not seem to be able to solve. We cannot balance our budget, or, more correctly, we will not. . . . The decision to encumber future generations with financial obligations is one that can rightly be considered among the fundamental choices addressed in the Constitution.”
Congress is way overdue to pass a balanced budget amendment. And the American people want it. Polls show that 74% are in favor of a balanced budget amendment.
It took less than a generation for us to get into this mess. We need a fiscal fix that will last for generations.
If we want to make lasting cuts to federal spending, a constitutional amendment is the only solution. It is our last line of defense against Congress’s unending desire to overspend and overtax.
Thomas Jefferson believed that “the public debt is the greatest of dangers to be feared.” Jefferson wished “it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution . . . taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.”
It is time that we listened to Thomas Jefferson and passed a constitutional amendment to end the federal government’s continuous deficit spending. We must solve our debt crisis to save our future.
I want to thank Mr. Goodlatte for introducing the version of the balanced budget amendment we are considering today and for his tireless work in support of the amendment.
Since the 1930s, dozens of proposals, offered by both Democrats and Republicans, have called for constitutional amendments to address federal budget deficits. We have the opportunity to take the first step toward making a balanced budget a reality by passing this legislation.
The American people have not given Congress a blank check. Let’s demonstrate to the American people that Congress can be fiscally responsible and get our economic house in order.
Borrowing 42 cents for every dollar the government spends and setting a new deficit record is not the road to prosperity. Let’s put our country first and pass this amendment.