Balanced budget amendment will do just that

Tim Pawlenty Contributor
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As we begin a new year and Congress reconvenes, an unpleasant reality is increasingly hitting home with ordinary Americans: Leaders in both parties have irresponsibly run up debt. And, since President Obama took office, the debt crisis has grown exponentially worse. The only way to solve the problem in the long run is with a Constitutional amendment.

The facts tell the story. The average American household now carries over half-a-million dollars in Federal debt. And it’s growing quickly: The Obama administration is now predicting that the federal budget deficit will exceed $10 trillion through 2019.  Meanwhile, some economists are predicting that in about 15 years, our public debt will be more than 100 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).  And that figure is just the tip of the iceberg: If you look at all of the unfunded liabilities of the Federal government, the national debt right now is already at least $65 trillion.

With the Federal government taking in about $2 trillion a year, this runaway spending is not sustainable. If we continue down the current path of runaway deficits, we’re going to have the Federal government creating a public-finances-equivalent to the subprime mortgage meltdown in the not too distant future.

When a family or business faces the sort of revenue gap we are facing as a nation, they have to drastically tighten their belts. Government must do the same.

States across the country are making difficult choices to balance their books. In Minnesota, we’ve prioritized veterans, public safety and schools, while making difficult cuts to almost everything else in order to avoid even higher taxes. Most other states are making similar tough choices – choices that could grow even harder depending on the changes to Medicaid being proposed by Congressional Democrats.

Cutting spending is necessary because our nation’s fiscal imbalance threatens our future prosperity, our national security, and the heart of the American dream. Without change, sooner or later massive Federal debt will force painful spending cuts, higher taxes, a weaker dollar and runaway inflation.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to turn things around.  By reining in our spending now, we can right our fiscal ship.  We can extend freedom and opportunity by making government live within its means. We can safeguard our prospects for long-term, future prosperity that will make this country an even greater place for future generations to grow up, live, work and raise a family than it already is—but we must act.

Balancing the budget will require some tough decisions. Congress must reduce discretionary spending in real terms, with exceptions for key programs such as military, veterans, and public safety. The Congress must also reject costly new spending initiatives, like new health care entitlements.

In the long run, sending different politicians to Washington will not be enough. We need a mechanism in place to enforce balanced budgets, because regardless of which party is in power, they have not done a good job of getting budgets to balance over time. That’s why I’m calling for a Constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, with exceptions for war, natural disasters, and other emergencies.

That won’t be easy; it will require a lot of hard work; and it will be a hard agenda to sell.  That’s what leadership is about, though.  My wish, as we begin this year, is for us to see much more of that from this administration and Congress.

Tim Pawlenty is the Governor of Minnesota. You can sign his petition in support of a balanced budget amendment at http://TimPawlenty.com.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook.