Proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution

Floor Speech

By:  Bob Goodlatte
Date: Nov. 18, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman.

In response to the gentleman from New York, I just want to point out a few facts: first of all, in the last 50 years, the budget has been balanced six times. Democrats have controlled the House of Representatives 37 of those years, and in only two of those years did they balance the budget. Four times when Republicans were in the majority, the budget was balanced: 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.

When those budgets were offered in this House, many Democrats voted in a bipartisan fashion for at least one of those budgets. The gentleman from New York voted against all four of the last balanced budgets that occurred in the time that he has been in Congress.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman.

I need to comment on the revisionist history that we are hearing.

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that tough votes are made when Congresses make the decision to balance the budget. That decision wasn't made in 1993 when Democrats voted to raise taxes; it was made when we sent a budget to the President that he vetoed. The government shut down, and after that shutdown, then and only then did President Clinton get in favor of welfare reform and other things that led to a slowing of the rate of growth in government spending.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 15 seconds to point out that this does allow you to borrow; you just have to have a supermajority and a special reason to do so. And I point out that if the States had anything like the proportionate debt that is constituted by this government today of $15 trillion, they wouldn't be borrowing much money either.

At this time, it is my pleasure to yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Duffy), a member of the Financial Services Committee.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute to respond to the gentleman.

If the gentleman's complaint is that there have been decisions made during Republican Congresses that he doesn't agree with that spent too much money, that didn't yield to balancing budgets, the gentleman is correct.

But the gentleman neglects to point out that there have been many, many Democratic Congresses in the last 50 years, 37 of them, of which only two of them resulted in a balanced budget. That is not a good record either. In fact, during the 1990s, when we were fortunate enough to receive four balanced budgets, those balanced budgets were under a Republican Congress and a Democratic President.

In point of fact, it was only after there was a confrontation about the level of spending and a government shutdown that the necessary reforms were made to slow the rate of government spending so we could achieve those balanced budgets.

The gentleman from North Carolina takes credit for his vote in 1993, which I did not agree with. I'm going to take credit for my four votes that were balanced budgets in 1998 through 2001, which he voted against. So we need bipartisan support for a rule in our Constitution that requires that the budget be balanced every year, except in times of national emergency when we should have bipartisan support to not balance.

At this time it is my pleasure to yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Stearns), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 30 seconds to respond to the gentlewoman to say that 49 out of 50 States have a balanced budget requirement. And while she sites California as perhaps the worst example--and it may be the worst example--still, the fiscal situation of California is much better than the fiscal situation here in Washington. The $25 billion deficit that they have to deal with this year--and they have to deal with it--for a State that has one-eighth of the population of the country of America which, taken nationwide, would mean a $200 billion deficit nationwide. We have a $1.3 trillion deficit, more than six times as much. And this is good discipline. It's worked in the States. It will work here as well.

It is now my pleasure to yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Flake), a member of the Appropriations Committee.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute to address the Chair but in response to comments made by the gentleman from Massachusetts.

We do need to look at that way-back machine. I hear the gentleman's complaints about decisions made by Republicans. In the last 50 years, and the gentleman has been here for many of those years, in the last 50 years, this Congress has balanced its budget a mere six times. Thirteen of those years Republicans were in control of the House, and four of those years we had balanced budgets, including the year the gentleman mentioned.

And in that year, the gentleman voted ``no'' on the balanced budget that was passed by this Congress that year. And the year before that, we had a balanced budget; the gentleman voted ``no.'' And the year before that, we had a balanced budget. And then in 1998, we had a balanced budget. And the gentleman voted ``no'' every single time a balanced budget was offered in this Congress. In fact, for the 37 years that Democrats controlled the Congress in the last 50 years, only twice did they do it.

Now, I have to agree with the gentleman about something, and that is that Social Security and Medicare are endangered.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. I yield myself an additional 30 seconds to say that Social Security and Medicare are endangered. And do you know why they're endangered? Because we have a $15 trillion debt. And in all of those years that we didn't balance the budget, what did the Congress do? They went into the Social Security trust fund and took every penny of it and spent it on something else.

And how ironic will it be that all that debt that we're transferring to the next generation, all of that debt will be on our children and grandchildren; and when they need Social Security and Medicare, it won't be there for them, not because of anything in a balanced budget amendment but because of the debt that we have accumulated.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute to respond to my good friend from New York.

I would just say to the gentleman that we do need to do the job, but you don't have to look ahead to wonder what's going to happen, all you have to do is look back. Over the past 50 years we've balanced the budget just six times and we've run up a $15 trillion national debt. Now, the gentleman has cited some criticism of Republican votes, but there are plenty of Democratic votes in the 4 years that the Democrats were in control of this Congress. Just recently we added $4 trillion to the national debt. Now, the fact of the matter is, over the 50 years, 37 of those years Democrats have controlled the House of Representatives and only 2 of those 37 years was it balanced. So when the gentleman says that some years will run surpluses and some years will run deficits, that's very true, but the history has been almost all of those years will run deficits unless we have a discipline in our Constitution to require that we do otherwise.

And I would also point out that in the 4 years since the gentleman has been here and I've been here we've had balanced budgets. The gentleman, for I'm sure reasons that he felt were very justified, voted against all four of the budgets that balanced in this Congress.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute to respond to the gentleman.

First of all, let me just be very clear that when the gentleman talks about the sins that he wants to impose upon Republicans for not balancing the budget, I think that's a very good argument. But since this is a bipartisan bill and dozens of his colleagues will be voting for this, I think it's because those of us who vote for it recognize that this is true on both sides of the aisle, that there has been a lack of tough decisions that have led to balanced budgets.

Every single year I vote for the toughest budget offered in this Congress. Those budgets never pass. Why? Because there's no requirement that they do so. So, what do we have? We have complaints on the other side of the aisle that this is a terrible plot on our part to bring about all kinds of harsh cuts. This balanced budget amendment doesn't make any distinction between whether you balance a budget by raising taxes or cutting spending. I'm going to do it to cut spending because I see lots of waste in our government. And I've voted for budgets that bring about a balance without raising taxes, but that is not the point here. The point is that it doesn't get done either way.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. I yield myself an additional 30 seconds.

As to the gentleman's complaint that this is all because we haven't taxed the rich, my goodness, in the last Congress, under the control of your party, you extended all of those tax cuts for everyone. And the fact of the matter is that the top 1 percent of American families pay 38 percent--38 percent--of the personal income taxes in this country today.

That, by the way, is up from 34 percent in 2001. So all of this can be on the table when we have a discussion about how to balance the budget.

All we're debating here today is the principle of whether or not we should balance the budget and looking at the past history where we have not, indeed, balanced it but six times in 50 years.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. The balanced budget amendment is fair to all because all it simply says is that for all time, the people of this country want their government to live within their means, not just right now, but in the future as well. Right now, we're not anywhere near living within our means; $1.3 trillion deficits each of the last 3 years, all that's being passed on to those children.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. If you don't balance the budget and you continue to pile up enormous debt, women, children, minorities, all will suffer in the future because our economy will shrink, just like Greece's economy is shrinking right now because they can't meet their obligations.

And to answer the gentleman's question, I think it's best to turn to those people themselves.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, I just pointed out that the rich pay far, far, far more in taxes than other people do, and they should. But this balanced budget amendment doesn't make any distinction between how you balance it, whether it's by increasing revenues, whether it's by economic growth, or whether it's by tax increases.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Absolutely there's a goal of doing that, and it is the goal of being able to generate a growing economy that results from living within your means and then using those means to pay for what our society needs.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute to say to the gentleman that the balanced budget amendment also will not deliver a pennant to the Chicago Cubs.

Now, let me also say this. In talking about those groups that the gentleman is rightly concerned about how they will do in the future, CNN asked them what they thought of a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, and 75 percent of women said they favored a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; 72 percent of nonwhite voters said they favored a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; 79 percent of our senior citizens said they favored a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; 79 percent of those who earn less than $50,000 a year said they favor a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. And the same is true whether you look at urban areas, suburban areas, rural areas, or any geographic region of our country. Consistently, they support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute to respond to the distinguished minority whip and to point out this chart.

The gentleman is quite right when he talks about profligacy when there have been Republican Congresses. Although, I would point out to the gentleman that, when we were in the majority and when we had President Bill Clinton and when we had those four balanced budgets, he voted for one but not the three others. We did not cut taxes then. Taxes were cut after the attack on this country, on September 11, 2001, to stimulate the economy, and we got roundly criticized for the deficits that ran up during that time.

Mr. HOYER. Will the gentleman yield? Because the gentleman is not accurate on that.

Mr. GOODLATTE. I will yield to the gentleman from Maryland in just a minute.

This chart show that, in 2004, we had a $400 billion deficit. It was the highest deficit in American history, and it was part of the reason we lost our majority later on. Then in 2007, as the deficit stepped down each of the interceding years, the gentleman from Maryland became the majority leader, and the gentlewoman from California became the Speaker of the House--and look at what has happened to our deficits ever since.

The Congress writes budgets; the Congress doesn't balance budgets. Both parties are to blame.

There have been six balanced budgets in the last 50 years. In 37 of those years, Democrats only balanced it twice. This is a bipartisan balanced budget amendment that the gentleman voted for once before. He should join us today and set the future on a different track.

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Mr. GOODLATTE. Madam Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.

The gentleman from New York and I agree on one thing: Prosperity is the goal. And this is not a pathway to prosperity. Fifty years with six balanced budgets is a pathway that has led to a $15 trillion debt that we have right now. That's not prosperity. The largest debtor nation on Earth is not prosperity. $50,000 per American citizen in debt is not prosperity. And the $60 trillion in future obligations that we have yielding this result is definitely not prosperity for our children and grandchildren.

That is why we need the discipline that a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution provides. That is why this is a bipartisan vote. That is why dozens of Democrats will join us today in enshrining in our Constitution something that will require that future Congresses balance the budget.

I urge my colleagues to join us in this matter, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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