For nearly my entire lifetime, Republican Presidents and Republican Congresses have preached the virtues of balanced budgets, but have never acted in any way to balance a budget. Ronald Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, G. W. Bush, and the Republican Congress of the past year have exploded the National Debt because of their mania to cut taxes so that the national debts are not paid. Only the Republican controlled Congress under the leadership of Rep. John Kasich resulted in a balanced budget.
I completely agree with the need for a balanced Federal budget and no national debt (see George Washington’s admonition against debts in his Farewell Address). The reason that Republicans will not balance the federal budget is because of their fixation on cutting taxes but their complete spinelessness to debate the hard choices that must be made to pay for what we spend. Government has many responsibilities, and those responsibilities require appropriated monies.
Republicans thought that reducing the size of the government would be accomplished by reducing the amount of tax revenue collected. Grover Norquist‘s strategy of continual tax cuts has simply exploded the size of the national debt. Norquist is in no way a fiscal conservative: he simply does not want to pay our debts. This is simply the coward’s strategy because he and his Pledge Takers have no stomach for cutting revenues, and no public support exists for their major budget cuts. More fundamentally, the size of government is defined by how much money is spent, and not how much is collected.
Moreover, if you call yourself a fiscal conservative, like I do, you pay your bills, and you pay them on time so that they are not passed onto others (i.e., the next generation in this case). This means collecting enough tax revenue to pay for all appropriations. The logical structure for appropriations and taxes is then simply to make the amount of tax collected to rise and fall automatically based on appropriations.
Therefore, I have a modest proposal for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Federal Constitution to remove the problem of appropriating and taxing as separate issues. My idea is to take the ability to explicitly lower or raise taxes completely away from Congress, but rather make the only way to reduce the public tax burden would be to directly reduce the amount of money spent. My proposal for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Federal Constitution is as follows in outline:
1. Congress shall appropriate monies for the programs to support the activities of the government.
a. Appropriations bills, as described in the constitution, must arise in the House of Representatives.
b. Appropriations bills must pass with a simple 50% + 0.49 majority (i.e., more people must vote for than vote against the appropriations bill) in both houses of Congress.
2. Taxes will be automatically set by the Congress’ Office of Mangement and Budget based on the amount of money appropriated.
a. Enough revenue must be collected to cover the appropriations for that fiscal year.
b. Enough revenue must be collected to alleviate any planned or unplanned deficit that resulted in the previous year.
c. Enough revenue must be collected so that a very small surplus is collected for an emergency “rainy-day” fund that will support unappropriated contingencies that arise during a fiscal year (i.e., to prevent any deficits in most years). Congress shall pass a bill each year to identify the percentage projection for the size of this surplus amount to be collected.
d. Enough revenue must be collected to make interest payments and to reduce the principle by at least 5% on any national debt, until that national debt is eliminated.
3. To collect less revenue than needed to cover appropriations and other expenses identified in #2, each chamber of Congress must pass a special exemption bill by a margin of 60% + 0.49 majority (i.e., at least 60% of members of a chamber must vote for the special exemption bill).
a. In normal years, Congress can only alter types and proportions of the taxes collected from various sources to support which programs. In other words, Congress can only shift tax burdens among the various taxes being collected.
b. In years where a 60% vote of both houses of Congress allows less tax to be collected than needed to cover all items in #2, the special exemption bill must enumerate what provisions of #2 can be violated and how much that violation can produce in the yearly deficit.