According to the U.S. Debt Clock, the federal debt has now grown to more than $26 trillion.
The massive spending by the federal government earlier this year to address the coronavirus crisis made the debt and deficit crises even worse. By the end of the decade, the debt will be more than the entire economy. Levels of debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will soon surpass levels last seen during World War II. The current problems are much more long-term than fighting a war.
Interest payments are now more than the entire national debt was at the start of the Reagan presidency. That means less and less money for children, health care, defense and other priorities of the federal government.
Imagine a friend who was spending more than they earned each year and borrowed so much that his debt was about to surpass his annual income. Then, consider that every dollar he borrowed was just going to pay the interest on the debt he owed. Most of us would have an intervention with that friend.
The federal government needs an intervention. We need a Balanced Budget Amendment — before it’s too late.
There are several ways to get there. Technically, the quickest route would be for two-thirds of the members of the Congress to vote to send language for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the states. Then, three-quarters of the states would have to vote to ratify the language for it to become a part of the U.S. Constitution.
When President Reagan was pushing for a Balanced Budget Amendment in the 1980s, two-thirds of the Senate voted for a resolution but it failed to get the necessary votes in the House. Years later, when Republicans regained the majority in the House after the 1994 elections, it passed as part of Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract with American but failed to get the necessary votes in the Senate.
It is a bipartisan issue: The debt went from about $5 trillion to $10 trillion under President Bush. Then it went to nearly $20 trillion under President Obama. We can’t depend on the people in Washington to do it for us.
Thankfully, the Founders provided more than one way to begin the process to amend the U.S. Constitution. Under Article V, two-thirds of the state can apply for a convention. During that gathering, each state would vote on specific language for an amendment. Once approved, the language would be sent back to the states where three-quarters would have to vote to ratify the amendment.
For the past year, I have been working with the Center for State-led National Debt Solutions on a campaign to get 34 states to approve resolutions calling for a Balanced Budget Amendment. So far, we have 28 states and we were about to pass a new resolution in South Carolina when the coronavirus crisis shut down the state legislature. Upon passage, we were going to move onto Idaho, Kentucky and Montana. Approving a resolution in the remaining states should not be difficult once lawmakers get back to work.
Another option is to seek legal action. A group called Let Us Vote for a Balanced Budget Amendment Citizen’s Campaign Inc. is pushing our elected staff officials to ask the court to rule that the states have reached the two-thirds threshold based on the fact that 28 states have passed Balanced Budget Amendment-specific resolutions and six more states have passed open-ended resolutions calling for a convention under Article V. Combined, these resolutions add up to 34 and meet the constitutional requirement for two-thirds of the states.
In addition, Let Us Vote for a Balanced Budget Amendment Citizen’s Campaign Inc. is promoting a pledge for all candidates for the state legislature or Congress to sign stating their support for a Balanced Budget Amendment. Not surprisingly, there is significant support from the general public.
Voters can understand that they have to balance their own budgets and they know that employers have to do the same or they will go out of business. Even local and state governments have to have balanced budgets. If all of the rest of us do, why can’t the federal government?
As imperfect as our Founders were in some areas of their own personal lives, they created an incredible document that protects our founding principles of liberty and justice for all. They also foresaw important issues that would come up that might be foreign during their lifetime but that would need to be addressed in the future.
Twenty-seven times during the history of our country amendments were offered to improve our Constitution. To ensure the financial future of our children and their children, we must get the debt and deficit crisis under control in America. We need a Balanced Budget Amendment — before it’s too late.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him @ScottWalker.