Today, U.S. Senators Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), John McCain (R-Arizona) called on their colleagues to support a one-year earmark moratorium and a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment.
The national debt is more than $12 trillion, the President's budget predicts a $1.6 trillion deficit this year, and the unfunded liability to pay for entitlements in the future exceeds $100 trillion. According to the Congressional Research Service, last year's pork barrel spending included 11,320 earmarks totaling nearly $32 billion. Cosponsors of both measures include Senators DeMint, Graham, Coburn, McCain, George LeMieux (R-Florida), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and John Ensign (R-Nevada).
"Our nation is headed for a fiscal catastrophe and we must take bold action to keep the politicians in Washington from running us off the cliff," said Senator DeMint. "Americans want real action to reduce spending, not rhetoric and not gimmicks. They know earmarks are at the heart of the spending addiction in Congress and they cannot understand why we don't have to balance the budget, just like they have to. These two measures will force Congress to shut down the favor factory and begin the process of bold, long-term budget reform. We hear a lot of talk about the need to be fiscally responsible these days, but very few actually do anything about it. We're giving our colleagues a chance to back up their rhetoric with action."
"I believe, now more than ever, the only way Congress will ever really balance the budget is with a Constitutional amendment requiring us to do so," said Senator Graham. "South Carolina has a balanced budget amendment in our state constitution that serves us well. Requiring the state legislature and governor to make difficult spending decisions -- not pass the buck on to future generations -- is an important, but necessary responsibility. Now is the time for Congress to do likewise.
"The earmark moratorium would place a one year freeze on all earmarks and send a strong signal to the American people that we are serious about reining in excess spending. Through these measures, I hope we will instill some confidence in the American people that we understand the dire need to get our nation's financial house in order and are working to change the way the people's business is conducted."
"It is abundantly clear that the time has come for us to eliminate the corrupt, wasteful practice of earmarking and establish some commonsense budgetary guidelines to live within our means," said Senator McCain. "Families all over America are tightening their belts and not wasting their money on "wants' in order to ensure they have the funds available to cover their "needs.' We must do the same. The American people are counting on us to represent their interests, not the special interests, and to stop wasting their hard-earned tax dollars."
"Congress will never take the big steps of reforming entitlements when we can't take the small steps of saying no to earmarks and wasteful spending. Earmarks are the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington. A one-year earmark moratorium and a Balanced Budget Amendment are two ways Congress could begin its journey toward fiscal sobriety and responsibility," said Dr. Coburn.
If passed, the earmark moratorium would prohibit the Senate from considering any legislation that contains earmarks (as defined in Rule 44 of the Standing Rules of the Senate). The Senate could waive the moratorium with a two-thirds majority.
President Obama supported an identical earmark moratorium in 2008 when he was running for president. At that time, he said, "We can no longer accept a process that doles out earmarks based on a member of Congress' seniority, rather than the merit of the project." Unfortunately, the measure was defeated in the Senate on March 13, 2008 by a vote of 29 to 71.
Balanced Budget Amendment
If ratified, the amendment would not allow the federal government to spend more than it collects each year. In limited circumstances, such as during a time of war, Congress can waive the balanced budget requirement with a two-thirds majority. The amendment also would make it more difficult for Congress to increase the burden on the taxpayer by requiring a two-thirds majority vote to raise taxes.
In order to become law, the amendment must be passed by two-thirds of both the House of Representative and the Senate, and then be ratified by two-thirds of the states. A decade ago, a similar version of the BBA passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate by a single vote. Forty-nine states currently have a balanced budget requirement.