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Let's Balance Our Budget So States Don't Have To

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Washington, February 1, 2016 | comments
Dear Colleague letter on Brat's Balanced Budget Amendment
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February 1, 2016

Dear Colleague:

The American people are angry about Congress’ fiscal mismanagement. Our lack of leadership imposes serious burdens on our children. It undermines the nation’s stability and prosperity, and CBO’s just-released Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016-2026 projects a dark future. We can fix this. If Congress fails to act soon, however, state legislatures are poised to draft and ratify a balanced budget amendment (BBA) to the Constitution.

Speaker Ryan has been sounding the alarm about unsustainable benefits programs for years. As he said in a2011 interview, “This debt literally is going to get out of our control pretty soon. And so if you get into these numbers and see what’s happening it’s truly scary.” That was nearly five years ago, so clearly the window is closing rapidly.

Knowing this, our counterparts in state legislatures could exercise their option to add a BBA to the Constitution without Congress’ input. Only seven more states are needed to call an Article V convention, and the top prospects are almost all in session this year.

We don’t know how that process would play out, but we shouldn’t wait. Congress should move quickly to send a well-written BBA to the states, and we need to begin reforming programs immediately to establish a path to balance.

Several bipartisan BBAs already exist in the House. My bipartisan proposal has unique aspects that should appeal to everyone. The central feature is that it establishes broad principles rather than mechanisms.

Congress retains all power to write implementing legislation. We can choose annual balance, structural balance, countercyclical fiscal policy, or some other approach. We can design enforcement tools through statute. And we can change them to fit our evolving politics, priorities, and personalities.

The principles are simple: balance, which can take place over multiple years to accommodate economic conditions; emergency spending with supermajority support; and a full decade after ratification to get to balance. It doesn’t attempt to replace or diminish our deliberative, sometimes messy, process. It establishes a constitutional consensus that balancing the budget—and preventing a debt crisis—is a moral and practical imperative.


Dave Brat
Member of Congress 

Downloadable text here

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