Over three decades, Sen. Orrin Hatch has labored unsuccessfully for a Balanced Budget Amendment. The Senate last passed such a measure in 1982, only to be disappointed by a Democrat-controlled House. The tease hit its apex in 1997, when the Utahn cobbled together 66 votes — one aye short of the constitutional requirement. “Like Charlie Brown with the football, we kept trying,” he laments in his memoir.
With fiscal hawks roosting in both chambers, Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is itching for another round. This week, along with Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), he will unveil a revamped proposal. The pair’s amendment will mandate the federal budget not to exceed total revenues, cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, and require a two-thirds vote (in both the House and the Senate) for net tax increases. The legislation will also require the president to submit a balanced budget to Congress each fiscal year.
As the federal government nears its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, a “great constitutional debate,” Hatch declares, is necessary. “Let’s put the screws on the big spenders,” he says. “We are facing a fiscal crisis and excuses are unacceptable.”
Cornyn agrees. “We don’t have to extend the debt ceiling for a year; we could do it for a month,” he says. “The question is, what price is the Democratic leadership in that Senate willing to pay in order to get a longer extension of the debt ceiling? Personally, I think that a vote on a balanced-budget amendment is one of the prices we should exact for a vote on the debt ceiling.”