Thursday, March 24, 2011



That’s what we owed as of February 16, 2011 at 2:08:30 AM.

That’s $45,434.10 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

It’s getting to be a worry. Americans of every political stripe moan and groan on the Internet and elsewhere about the burden of debt. ‘Fourteen trillion dollars’ has become a battle cry. A rallying cry. Even, in some neighborhoods, a call to arms.

One movement it occasions is the thrust for a balanced budget amendment to the federal constitution. The latest version, introduced in the House of Representatives as House Joint Resolution 1 is as follows:

Section 1. Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific excess of outlays over receipts by a rollcall vote.

Section 2. The limit on the debt of the United States held by the public shall not be increased, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House shall provide by law for such an increase by a rollcall vote.

Section 3. Prior to each fiscal year, the President shall transmit to the Congress a proposed budget for the United States Government for that fiscal year in which total outlays do not exceed total receipts.

Section 4. No bill to increase revenue shall become law unless approved by a majority of the whole number of each House by a rollcall vote.

Section 5. The Congress may waive the provisions of this article for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect. The provisions of this article may be waived for any fiscal year in which the United States is engaged in military conflict which causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security and is so declared by a joint resolution, adopted by a majority of the whole number of each House, which becomes law.

Section 6. The Congress shall enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation, which may rely on estimates of outlays and receipts.

Section 7. Total receipts shall include all receipts of the United States Government except those derived from borrowing. Total outlays shall include all outlays of the United States Government except for those for repayment of debt principal.

Section 8. This article shall take effect beginning with the later of the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification or the first fiscal year beginning after December 31, 2012

With all due respect for the bona fides of the Congressmen who endorsed this resolution, I must say it does not do what the American people hope will be done. In fact, it has the aura of a smoke screen to cover continued deficit spending by the Congress.

What exactly does it mean, for example, to say that in the President’s proposed budget outlays shall not exceed receipts?

A budget is an estimate, for heaven’s sake. An estimate is an opinion. A guess. A target. A hope. Nay, an estimate is an illusion. When I was a young married man I drew up household budgets every other month. They always balanced, but I never could live by them.

The three fifths vote and the rollcall requirement are window dressing. Forty votes in the House and ten in the Senate are hardly the stuff of constitutional protection.

And how about the exemption for wartime and “threat to national security?”

That language would have nullified their amendment over the last decade, and for how much longer in this dangerous world?

HJ Res 1 only proves what most Americans intuitively know. You don’t leave the fox in charge of the hen house. And you don’t give the job of drafting a balanced budget amendment to the very people who have spent us into 14 trillion dollars worth of trouble and worry.

If war is too serious to be left to the generals, constitutional reform is too important to be left to the politicians.

We need a convention, and we need it now.

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