Hatch and Lee’s balanced budget amendment: a win for America

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On March 31, Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee introduced a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to make it a constitutional requirement for Washington, D.C., to end our deficit spending and our culture of debt. And our national grassroots organization, Pass the Balanced Budget Amendment, is working with them to compel lawmakers to approve this change to the Supreme Law of the Land.

The BBA forbids the federal government from spending more than it takes in. There are a few exceptions, such as allowing two-thirds of the House and Senate to suspend it for a specific reason for one year, with lower thresholds to respond to a military threat to our national security or an official, declared war against a specific nation (not some open-ended or global military operation).

The amendment is cosponsored by all 47 Senate Republicans. This raises eyebrows in that the last time a proposed BBA was voted on, 1997, it enjoyed Democratic support, receiving a total of 66 votes, just one vote short of what it needed to pass the Senate.

A separate story here is Utah’s leading role. That state’s senior senator, Orrin Hatch, designed one version of the BBA. Utah’s junior senator, Mike Lee, designed another. Both senators — one tied as the most senior Republican in the chamber and the other among the newest — then designed a composite version.

The resulting BBA addresses several major economic priorities. In addition to forcing a balanced budget, the BBA caps federal spending at 18 percent of GDP. It also requires a 60-percent vote to raise the national debt limit. It requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes. And it forbids courts from ordering any tax increase. The BBA thus addresses multiple aspects of fiscal policy in a full-spectrum response to America’s debt-and-deficit nightmare.

Utah’s predominance regarding a constitutional amendment is no surprise. Hatch is the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was talked up as a potential Supreme Court nominee years ago. Lee is the only former Supreme Court law clerk in the Senate, and is already mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee. These two senators may be bookends in seniority and age, but they are the foremost constitutional scholars in the Senate.

The Constitution is extraordinarily difficult to amend, requiring two-thirds of the House and Senate to propose it to the states, then three-fourths of the states (38) to ratify it.

To turn the BBA into reality, Senators Hatch and Lee are working with a national grassroots organization, Pass the Balanced Budget Amendment, to organize volunteers in every legislative district in America.

We are very grateful to have Senators Hatch and Lee as honorary chairmen. With their leadership, as well as others such as Co-Chairman Ken Buck of Colorado, the BBA has the best chance of passing since America’s fiscal mismanagement began decades ago.

This is not just about economic conservatives. We must balance our national budget for the sake of our children’s future. And our national debt has now become a national security concern as well. This is the perfect fusion of the three legs of the Reagan Coalition, and will benefit all Americans.

There are also serious political implications. The BBA could change the national debate. With several GOP presidential contenders endorsing the idea, this will likely be an issue for the 2012 elections. Those of us involved at the grassroots level with this issue are determined on making it so.

Former Ohio Treasurer Ken Blackwell is Chairman of Pass the Balanced Budget Amendment, where Ken Klukowski is a member of the National Advisory Board.