Governors Haley Barbour (R.-Miss.), Bob McDonnell (R.-Va.), and Rick Perry (R.-Tex.) sent a letter to the Democrat and Republican congressional leaders on Tuesday evening calling on them to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution.
“We believe it is time that the federal government be required to live within its means and balance its books every year, just as we are required to do in our respective states,” wrote the three governors in a letter obtained by HUMAN EVENTS.
The governors’ letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), Speaker of the House John Boehner (R.-Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnnell (R.-Ky.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R.-Calif.).
“Currently, 49 states have some form of a balanced budget requirement. Millions of working families across the country balance their checkbooks every year and we believe that Congress needs to do the same,” the governors wrote.
Because the federal government is not required to balance its budget, this year alone spending will exceed revenue by $1.5 trillion. The accumulation of the years of federal budget deficits has left the U.S. with a national debt of $14.1 trillion. The debt is projected to hit the statutory limit within the next two months, at which point Congress will have to decide to raise the debt ceiling.
“In Mississippi we are required to have a balanced budget. That legal requirement makes a world of difference. And [it’s] getting our legislature to live within our means,” Barbour told HUMAN EVENTS in an interview. “The country would benefit if there were a national Balanced Budget Amendment.”
“The fact that the federal government has no Balanced Budget Amendment is to me one of the great cancers of the republic,” McDonnell told HUMAN EVENTS by phone. “I think that transferring the spending restraints that are required in every state through a Balanced Budget Amendment is what needs to be done at the federal level.”
The governors’ letter supports specific BBA legislation in the House sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.) and in the Senate by Senators John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah). “We support and appreciate their leadership and their effort to solve the deepening budget crisis and ask that you work with them to pass a balanced budget amendment in the 112th Congress,” the governors wrote.
In early February, Cornyn organized a conference call with McDonnell, Barbour, Perry, and Goodlatte to get state support for a BBA. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, so it would require bipartisan support for passage.
“From my conversation with them, I think they see themselves as a kind of counterbalance to the overreach in Washington,” Cornyn told HUMAN EVENTS of the call with the governors. “They can use the authority they’ve been given in their states by organizing together and forcing Washington to change. I think that’s a very constructive development.”
The governors have all been struggling to balance their own states’ budgets during this current legislative term. Along with a weak economy, the states are also forced to budget for the unfunded federal mandates, especially from the health care law known as ObamaCare, as well as education and environmental regulations. ObamaCare has forced more people into the Medicaid program, which is split 50/50 between the states and the federal government.
“We have sued the federal government to try to declare ObamaCare unconstitutional. It would increase our Medicaid rolls by two-thirds. We already have more than 20% of our population on Medicaid. And this will put us up to more than a third of our population on Medicaid. And by the time the program is fully in effect, it will cost us an extra $440 million a year,” Barbour told HUMAN EVENTS.
“Medicaid is a budget buster for Virginia and, really, every state,” McDonnell told HUMAN EVENTS. “This ObamaCare bill not only adds more spending, but it really hamstrings the governors with these maintenance-of-effort requirements. I mean this is eligibility requirements. But you really can’t do anything creative or entrepreneurial or try to reduce Medicaid spending in your states. So it’s a bad situation. And the federal government doesn’t seem interested at this point in giving us the tools to control the costs.”
According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, an amendment must get a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, and be ratified by three-quarters of the states. So in the Democrat-majority Senate, the amendment would need all 47 Republicans votes plus 20 Democrats for passage.
McConnell is expected to launch an all-out push to get grassroots support for a BBA during the debate with President Obama over the terms of raising the debt ceiling.
The Senate voted on March 2 for a non-binding amendment for a BBA, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Utah). The final vote was 58-40. If that test vote would be an accurate measure for vote counting, then only nine more Democrats are needed to pass a BBA this year.
The last time that the Senate voted on a binding Balanced Budget Amendment was in 1997, when the measure sponsored by Hatch, failed by only one vote. The 1997 BBA was supported by 11 Democrats, four of whom are still in the Senate: Max Baucus (Mont.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Herb Kohl (Wisc.), and Mary Landrieu (La.).
For the March 2 vote, Kohl voted in favor, but Baucus and Harkin voted against it. Landrieu did not vote. The three who voted in favor of the BBA in 1997 are considered good potential supporters of a 2011 BBA, which leaves six more needed for passage.
In the House, Goodlatte’s BBA bill is considered more likely to get bipartisan support for passage. The House passed a BBA in 1995 as part of the “Contract With America.”
Under the new Senate Republican version of the BBA, the federal government would have to balance federal spending to incoming revenue each year, cap spending at 18% of the gross domestic product (GDP), require a two-thirds vote in Congress to pass a budget that is out of balance or to raise taxes, mandate that the President submit a balanced budget each year, and get a three-fifths vote to raise the debt ceiling.
“Undoubtedly, Washington has a spending problem, and this problem is getting worse,” the three governors wrote in the letter to Congressional leaders. “Hence, a balanced budget amendment is a common-sense measure that is long overdue and whose time has come.”