By Jim DeMint
If you want to see how badly this country needs a balanced budget amendment, just tune into C-SPAN and watch the Senate sometime.
There, you'll see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the chamber's most powerful Democrat, complaining about how "mean-spirited" it would be to cut funding for a cowboy poetry festival in his home state of Nevada.
New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer's knee-jerk reaction to any plans to reduce spending in a practical and reasonable manner is to label them "extreme" with lightning speed.
If these status quo senators won't eliminate funding for cowboy poetry, they will never willingly balance the budget. That's why Congress must be forced to balance the budget by a law higher than Congress--a constitutional amendment.
Right now, Republicans and Democrats are wrangling over whether to trim $61 billion or $6 billion from a continuing resolution to keep the government functioning. But, debates over tens of billions in cuts aren't nearly enough when the country is $14 trillion in debt and borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends!
In the month of February alone, the government borrowed $220 billion. The proposal to cut $61 billion barely makes a dent in one month of borrowed spending and yet, Democrats are threatening to shutdown the entire government to avoid passing it.
Republicans must not be so afraid of Democrats' threats of a shutdown that they fail to unite behind the broad-sweeping reforms necessary to save our country. There will be a short window to pass the balanced budget amendment before a vote to increase the debt ceiling and the GOP must take advantage of it.
President Obama is asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling for the fourth time since he entered office in order to keep up his big-government spending spree, which has added more than $3 trillion to the debt. Congress has raised the debt ceiling 10 times in the last 10 years--twice in 2008 and 2009.
Still, no action has been taken to stop it from being raised again and again. If the country continues on this course, the debt will nearly double in the next ten years to $26 trillion. We must balance the budget, or we will bust.
Now is the time to draw the line. Forty-nine of the 50 states have balanced budget requirements on their books and the federal government should, too.
All Senate Republicans joined in support last week to introduce a balanced budget amendment. The balanced budget amendment limits government spending to 18 percent of the gross domestic product and requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
It should also be the policy of the entire Republican conference that we will not vote to increase the debt ceiling without first passing this balanced budget amendment.
To raise the debt ceiling, Senate Majority Leader Reid will need 60 votes. In order to pass the balanced budget amendment, 67 senators must vote for it. It should be easier to get to 67 votes for a balanced budget amendment than it is to get to 60 to allow trillions more in deficit spending with no plan to rein it in.
It will be difficult, which is why everyone should call their senators and insist a balanced budget amendment be passed before we act on the debt limit.
Some well-intentioned senators are already looking for a compromise solution by creating a new Congressional statute like Gramm-Rudman or PAYGO from years past, that would "cap" spending at 20.6 percent of our GDP. While this approach is laudable, it is inadequate. First, tax revenues have averaged barely more than 18 percent of GDP in the last 50 years. Second, spending-restriction statutes are routinely waived and ignored -- just like Gramm-Rudman and PAYGO.
The public is clamoring for real solutions to stopping the debt. That's why Republicans should be confident to act boldly and swiftly to enact permanent reform that will have lasting effect.
It may require multiple votes to pass a balanced budget amendment. They will be well worth it if that's what it takes. The debt ceiling simply must not be raised if Congress won't commit to balancing the budget.
Passing a balanced budget amendment to stop spending now should be easier than voting to raise the debt ceiling again and burden our children with trillions more debt. It's certainly the more responsible thing to do.
A balanced budget is a mainstream idea and the time has come to implement it. And, if anyone needs a reminder of what "extreme" looks like, just look at the status quo senators who are clinging to keep government-funded cowboy poetry in a debt crisis.