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12 September 2011

Stouffer: Knowing What It Takes: A Balanced Federal Budget

Op. note: Rep. Mike Kelley sent an identical missive at 11:04a, 14 Sept. 2011

This country is long overdue in having a balanced budget. Federal lawmakers have come close to mandating we live within our means at the federal level several times, but not close enough. Many believe it is possible that a vote to “cut, cap and balance” is ahead, and Missouri should be prepared to respond.

A balanced budget amendment is proposed in Congress every few years. The plan normally gets discussed, but does not make it to the people. Balancing federal spending would mean big changes, even at the state budget level.

In Missouri, we balance the budget. We have to; it is the law. We do have debt in this state, but it is relatively low, comparatively speaking. For every dollar that will be spent in Fiscal Year 2012 (which runs July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012), three-tenths of a cent will go to pay off our public debt.

Our ability to balance the budget has also kept our state’s credit rating high. While the nation’s credit rating has been dropped, Missouri continues to enjoy a AAA rating, which means our interest payments stay low.

There is nothing new about the concept of a federal balanced budget. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1798 how he wished it could be impossible for a government to borrow money. But, since the country was recovering from the cost of the Revolutionary War, such an amendment was not feasible then. Nothing was proposed until 1936. More calls for a federal balanced budget amendment happened during the 1970s. The latest attempts were in 1995 and ’97, but nothing has occurred since then.

There are essentially two ways the U.S. Constitution can be amended, and one has never been used.

The first is for a bill to pass both the U.S. House and Senate, by a two-thirds majority in each. Once the bill has passed both houses, it goes on to the states. Then, three-fourths of state legislatures or conventions, as outlined by the original federal legislation, must approve the amendment with a simple majority. In addition, Congress usually places a time limit on the states to respond. Every single amendment to the constitution has followed this path.

The second method is for two-thirds of the states to petition Congress for a constitutional change. Then, Congress must call for a convention for proposing amendments. This means 34 of the 50 states have to petition the federal government. Between 1975 and ’80, 30 states tried to get the federal government to enact a balanced budget amendment. By 1983, two additional states joined the chorus, including Missouri.

I would encourage everyone to contact your federal legislator. Let them know the time has come for a federal balanced budget amendment. Missouri’s balanced budget has proven itself to work time and time again. It is part of the reason we are not in the same financial shape as most other states. The federal government continues to borrow billions of dollars at a time; we cannot sustain this type of spending any longer. I pray that our leaders will understand the damage they are doing and stop the practice immediately. One way to curb the spending is to enact a balanced budget amendment in Washington, D.C.

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