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Public Statements

Balancing the Budget

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we are going to talk about a very important development here in the House of Representatives--in fact, in the entire Congress. Because of the vote this summer on the Budget Control Act, we are going to have in both the House and the Senate for the first time in about 15 years a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. The last time we did this was on March 2, 1995--actually, the House had already passed it with 300 bipartisan votes, and it was brought to the Senate floor on that day. The U.S. Senate failed by one vote to send a balanced budget amendment to the States for ratification. The amendment had passed the House by the required two-thirds majority previously, and the Senate vote was the last legislative hurdle before ratification by the States.

As we know, balanced budget amendments--in fact, any constitutional amendment is voted on by the House and the Senate, requiring a two-thirds vote in each body, and then it does not go to the President of the United States, as legislation does. Instead, it goes directly to our States, and then three-quarters of the State legislatures would be required to ratify it.

If that amendment had passed, then we would not be dealing with the fiscal crisis we now face. If that amendment had passed, then balancing the budget would have been the norm rather than the exception over the past 15 years, and we would have nothing like the annual deficits and skyrocketing debt that we must address today.

The good news is that, like 1995, this Congress is again standing at a crossroads at this very moment. The decisions we make today will steer the direction of the country for the next 15 years. We have an opportunity now to take action to ensure that 15 years from today our children will face a much brighter fiscal picture. We must not allow ourselves to miss this opportunity.

Experience has proven time and again that Congress cannot, for any significant length of time, rein in excessive spending. The annual deficits and the resulting debt continue to grow due to political pressures and a dependency on government programs. In order for Congress to be able to consistently make the very tough decisions necessary to sustain fiscal responsibility over the long term, Congress must have an external pressure to force it to do so. The most realistic change we have today to enact this type of institutional reform is through a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution.

Many Members of Congress have introduced balanced budget amendments in this Congress. I introduced two versions on the first day of the 112th Congress.

H.J. Res. 2 is the exact text that passed the House in 1995 and failed in the Senate by one vote. This amendment requires total annual outlays not to exceed total annual receipts. It also requires a three-fifths majority to raise the debt limit. This legislation also has limited exceptions for times of war.

H.J. Res. 1, which I also introduced, goes much further. In addition to the provisions of H.J. Res. 2, it requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes and imposes an annual spending cap that prohibits spending from exceeding 18 percent of GDP.

In the U.S. Senate, 47 Republican Senators--all the Republican Senators--have cosponsored a balanced budget amendment, which is a strong sign that the Senate is ready to engage in debate on this subject as well.

Our extraordinary fiscal crisis demands an extraordinary solution, so we simply cannot afford to succumb to political posturing on this issue at a point in time so crucial to our Nation's future. We must rise above that and move forward with a strategy that includes legislation that will get to 290 votes on the House floor.

So as we consider a balanced budget amendment, I encourage the Members of the body to devote our efforts to passing the strongest balanced budget amendment that can garner two-thirds of the House of Representatives. We're at a crossroads in the country. We can make the tough choices and control spending, paving the way for our return to surpluses and ultimately paying down the national debt, or we can allow big spenders to lead us further down the road of chronic deficits and leave our children and grandchildren saddled with debt that is not their own.

I have been joined by a number of outstanding Members of the House, and I am going to call upon them to offer some comments about the importance of a balanced budget amendment to them and to their constituents as well.

Since he got here first, I'm going to yield first to one of our new Members, from the State of Indiana, a great fiscal conservative, someone who believes strongly in limiting our government and balancing our budget, Congressman Todd Rokita.


Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman from New Jersey, and I like the sound of that 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

Let me just say that, as I mentioned at the outset, because of the vote by the Congress--the House and the Senate--signed into law by the President, we will have a vote in both the House and Senate on a balanced budget amendment before the end of this year, before December 31. And if either body passes a specific balanced budget amendment, the other body has to vote on the same one so that we have the greatest possibility that if we can reach that kind of consensus, we can actually send a balanced budget amendment for the first time to the States for ratification. It would require 38 States to ratify it. But as the gentleman from New Jersey just noted, 49 out of 50 States have a requirement in their constitution that they must balance their budgets.

I believe that with the public supporting this by numbers northward of 80 percent--and it's very bipartisan support. I saw a recent poll that showed that 74 percent of Democrats support this, as do a great many Democrats here in the House. In fact, to pass a constitutional amendment with 290 votes, it has to be bipartisan. So we are working across the aisle to make sure that we build the kind of support that we need to pass the strongest possible amendment to our Constitution requiring that the government lives within its means.

I yield to another great supporter of that concept, another new Member who came here to reform the way things are done here in Washington, DC, and who has joined us in this effort, the gentleman from Illinois, Congressman Randy Hultgren.


Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman. I very much appreciate his comments and would note the fact that we have, speaking here tonight, Members from many corners of the country: Indiana, Alabama, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Virginia.

In fact, Members of Congress from about 46 or 47 States have indicated their support for at least one version of the constitutional amendment. If we can bring all of them together, and they can bring just a few more Members together, we can get to that 290 votes, because this is not a regional issue, this is not a partisan issue.

This is an issue that transcends the country. It's reflected in the fact that this is an issue we can communicate directly with our constituents about, and they understand exactly what we're talking about because they live with the concept that they can't spend more than they take in year after year after year. The businesses that they work for, they can't spend more than they take in year after year after year. Local governments, State governments are all bound by this principle that you cannot live beyond your means. That principle should be enshrined in the United States Constitution.

I yield to another Member who joins us in this effort, another new Member--and it's the new Members who have helped to bring this issue back to the fore, who really want to see a vote on this for the first time in 15 years--Congressman Reid Ribble from Wisconsin.


Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman for his comments.

As I indicated earlier, this is an issue that has to have a bipartisan solution. It simply is not possible to pass constitutional amendments that require two-thirds of the House, or 290 Members, and two-thirds of the Senate, 67 Members, without Members reaching across the aisle and working together to come up with language that is agreeable and can be supported on both sides of the aisle.

And quite frankly, the nature of the problem that we are confronted with is one that past Congresses controlled by both parties, Presidents of both parties have contributed to, and the solution is going to have to require also that same kind of bipartisan working it out on a year-to-year basis balancing the budget.

It won't be easy. There will be tremendous differences of opinion about whether we should do this by cutting spending or raising revenues, or doing other things that can grow our economy and cause more revenues to come in. But it cannot get to the first stage of having future Congresses live by this without it being bipartisan. That's why I'm so pleased that so many members of the Democratic Party have signed on to support this effort. They've been led by an outstanding Member who has championed a balanced budget amendment for a long time, and that's Congressman Peter DeFazio from Oregon.

I yield to the gentleman.


Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman.

In the next few weeks, as we anticipate a vote coming up quite soon, we have a lot of work to do to make sure that we are giving every Member of this body an opportunity to speak out for fiscal responsibility and not just speak but put their vote on the line and say, yes, we think we should send to the States an amendment to the Constitution to require a balanced budget.

We are also joined by another new Member who has been a very strong advocate for cutting government spending and having government operate more efficiently and believes strongly in requiring that our government do what everyone else in our society has to do, and that is live within its means, balance its budget, and that's Congressman Marlin Stutzman from Indiana.


Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman.

I have to say that we've seen support from all across the country, from east coast States like New Jersey and Virginia all the way to the west coast to Oregon. We've heard from Members of both parties, we've heard from Members from States along the Canadian border, and Members from States on the gulf coast.

This amendment has broad, broad support in the Congress, but it has a high hill to climb in needing 290 Members to vote for it. We're continuing to work to find that support. It's not a new idea. It's been around for almost as long as our Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson has been cited, and I'll read that again here. He said, ``I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government. I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.'' He said that in 1798. That's the only thing he said.

Later in his life he said, ``There does not exist an engine so corruptive of the government and so demoralizing of the Nation as a public debt. It will bring on us more ruin at home than all the enemies from abroad against whom this Army and Navy are to protect us.'' Thomas Jefferson said that in 1821.

And about our future generations, which several Members have commented on here tonight, Thomas Jefferson said in 1789, the year that our Constitution went into effect, ``Then I say, the Earth belongs to each of these generations during its course fully, and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts and encumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on. For if the first could charge it with a debt, then the Earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation.''

Thomas Jefferson wrote that to James Madison in 1789, and how prescient was that as our new Nation was starting work under a new Constitution that he would observe that we are where we are today where we are passing on to future generations debt that is unsustainable.

How ironic it is that we borrow money today to pay for programs today and put that burden on the backs of our children and grandchildren and those not yet even born with the likelihood that if we do not change from this course, we will find that those very children and grandchildren will not have these programs when they need to depend upon it. They will only have the debt.

This is what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said the Earth would belong to the dead and not to the living.

Finally, let me give you one more quote:

``To preserve the independence of the people, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude.''

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