By Bruce Braley
Itís a simple concept that would revolutionize the way our government does its business: amend the Constitution to require the federal government to balance its budget every year, so government spending cannot exceed revenue.
The rationale is common sense. States must balance their budgets year-in and year-out, and Iowa is no exception. Families across Iowa and America have to balance their checkbooks. So why shouldnít Uncle Sam?
A balanced budget amendment would get our nationís budget deficit under control. Both Republicans and Democrats have proved themselves incapable of reining in the growing national debt over the past decade.
By effectively outlawing deficit spending, politicians in Washington would be forced to both pay for every penny of federal spending and make cuts to ineffective and wasteful sacred cows that have escaped the knife so far.
Combine a balanced-budget amendment with another tough reform called the ďNo Budget, No PayĒ rule, which would cut off pay for members of Congress if they donít produce a budget on time, and we might really see Washington get things done for a change.
The basic concept of a balanced budget is one thatís easy to understand, but the challenge is how you write it to make sure America isnít left vulnerable in a national emergency.
What if our nation suddenly goes to war? What if thereís a major natural disaster requiring costly rescue efforts and recovery, like the 2008 Iowa floods and tornadoes or Hurricane Katrina? What if some other unforeseen emergency circumstance requires sudden, temporary action by Congress?
These concerns have kept me from endorsing a specific balanced budget plan.
Re, Justin Amash, a first-term Republican from Michigan, has brought a fresh perspective and common sense thinking to the budget deficit debate. He has proposed a balanced-budget amendment I can support.
The Amash proposal packs a punch, requiring the federal government to balance its budget every year. Yet in times of crisis, it allows a two-thirds vote of Congress to pass a yearlong emergency exception for specific reasons such as natural disasters or wars.
Thatís a threshold high enough to prevent abuse, but reasonable enough to encourage bipartisan cooperation when our nation is truly threatened.
The proposal also stipulates that any revenue collected in excess of government spending be used first to reduce the debt of the United States.
Further, the Amash proposal would phase in the balanced budget requirement during the 10 years following ratification, requiring the deficit to be closed by a minimum of 1/10th each year. Just like a smoker quitting nicotine, this reasonable implementation period would provide a more stable transition from runaway deficit spending to a balanced budget.
Make no mistake, the Amash balanced budget amendment only works if Congress stops playing games by spending money off-budget. No more trillion-dollar spending that we donít pay for. No more new Medicare drug benefits that we donít pay for. And no more stimulus spending ó unless two-thirds of Congress agrees to a yearlong exception.
Iíve only been a Congress a short time, but if thereís one thing Iíve learned, itís that politicians wonít break their bad habits unless the rules of the game change.
The balanced budget amendment is the game-changer we need to get our fiscal house in order, to provide stability for our economic recovery, and to keep the United States from repeating the mistakes of Greece and other European countries struggling with too much debt.
Thatís why Iím joining 55 of my House colleagues ó Republicans and Democrats ó as a co-sponsor of this amendment.Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo is in his second term as Iowaís 1st District congressman. Comments: email@example.com