Dear Senator Pryor, why not pass the Balanced Budget Amendment? ( “Thirsty Thursday,” Open letter to Senator Pryor)

Dear Senator Pryor, 

Why not pass the Balanced Budget Amendment? As you know that federal deficit is at all time high (1.6 trillion deficit with revenues of 2.2 trillion and spending at 3.8 trillion).

On my blog www.HaltingArkansasLiberalswithTruth.com I took you at your word and sent you over 100 emails with specific spending cut ideas. However, I did not see any of them in the recent debt deal that Congress adopted. Now I am trying another approach. Every week from now on I will send you an email explaining different reasons why we need the Balanced Budget Amendment. It will appear on my blog on “Thirsty Thursday” because the government is always thirsty for more money to spend.

Balanced Budget Amendment: Instrument to Force Spending Cuts, Not Tax Hikes

By Edwin Meese, III
July 21, 2011

 

As Congress considers what to do about federal overspending and overborrowing, conservatives must maintain focus. We must pursue the path that drives down federal spending and borrowing and gets to a balanced budget, while preserving our ability to protect America and without raising taxes. An important part of that conservative agenda is adoption of a sound—repeat, a sound—Balanced Budget Amendment.[1] A Balanced Budget Amendment is not sound if it leads to balancing the federal budget by tax hikes instead of spending cuts. Thus, a sound Balanced Budget Amendment must prohibit raising taxes unless a two-thirds majority of the membership of both Houses of Congress votes to raise them. Without the two-thirds majority requirement, the Balanced Budget Amendment becomes the means for big spenders to raise taxes.

Supporters of the Balanced Budget Amendment rightly want to force the federal government to live within its means—to spend no more than it takes in. Because the government has failed for decades to follow that balanced budget principle, America is now $14.294 trillion in debt, a debt of more than $45,000 for every person in the United States.[2]

President Obama is making things worse. In discussions with congressional leaders, he has pushed hard to get authority to borrow yet more trillions of dollars and hike taxes. And the White House reiterated this week that President Obama opposes amending the Constitution to require the federal government to balance its budget.[3]

A Sound Balanced Budget Amendment Must Require Two-Thirds Majorities to Raise Federal Taxes

Like 72 percent of the American people, The Heritage Foundation favors passage by the requisite two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and ratification by the requisite 38 states of an effective Balanced Budget Amendment to become part of our Constitution.[4] Heritage has made clear that an effective Balanced Budget Amendment must control spending, taxation, and borrowing; ensure the defense of America; and enforce, through the legislative process and without interference by the judicial branch, the requirement to balance the budget.[5] A sound Balanced Budget Amendment will drive down federal spending and end federal borrowing.

To date, Congress has proposed one largely sound Balanced Budget Amendment for consideration—Senate Joint Resolution 10, often called the Hatch-Lee Amendment after its main proponents.[6] It has a number of important features, such as an annual federal spending cap of not to exceed 18 percent of the economy’s annual output of goods and services (called the gross domestic product, or GDP) that Congress cannot exceed, except by a law passed with two-thirds majorities in both Houses of Congress or in specified circumstances involving military necessity.

A crucial feature is included in section 4 of the Balanced Budget Amendment proposed by Senate Joint Resolution 10: “Any bill that imposes a new tax or increases the statutory rate of any tax or the aggregate amount of revenue may pass only by a two-thirds majority of the duly chosen and sworn Members of each House of Congress by a roll call vote.” The requirement that no tax hikes occur without the approval of 290 Representatives and 67 Senators is essential in a sound Balanced Budget Amendment. Without the requirement for two-thirds majorities for any tax increase, the Balanced Budget Amendment becomes a sword for big spenders to use to raise taxes, instead of a shield to protect Americans from tax hikes. Those who seek to anchor into our Constitution a requirement to balance the budget must always remember that, if the only requirement is “balance,” that can be achieved two ways—cut spending or hike taxes. A sound Balanced Budget Amendment will balance the budget by driving down federal spending and not by driving up federal taxes.

Balanced-Budget States That Allow Simple Majorities for Tax Hikes Face Situations Very Different from That of the Federal Government

Some look at the experience of states that have requirements in their constitutions for a balanced state budget and draw the wrong conclusion about the need for two-thirds majorities for taxation. They mistakenly conclude that a requirement merely for simple majorities in state legislatures to raise taxes suffices to keep state taxation under control and therefore that a federal Balanced Budget Amendment should require only simple majorities in Congress to raise taxes. But the balanced budget requirement at the state level occurs in a very different context from such a requirement at the federal level.

As a practical matter, state legislators regularly work and live among the people they represent, often do their legislative work face-to-face with their constituents, and often depend upon direct contact with voters to persuade voters to keep the legislators in office. As a result, state legislators tend to be closely attuned and responsive to the need of their constituents for reasonableness in taxation. In contrast, U.S. Senators and Representatives spend much of their time distant from the people they represent, often deal with their constituents through the insulation of large staffs, and amass large campaign funds through political fundraising that allow them to depend more upon expensive mass communications than upon direct contact with voters to persuade the voters to keep them in office. As a result, U.S. Senators and Representatives tend to be less directly attuned and responsive to the need of their constituents for reasonableness in taxation than state legislators are. Accordingly, while a requirement for merely simple majorities in state legislatures to raise taxes may suffice to keep taxes under control in that state, simple majorities are not likely to keep taxes under control at the federal level—as the experience of federal tax increases in the last 50 years proves.

Some who recognize the need for taxpayer protection by requiring supermajorities, rather than just simple majorities, of the two Houses of Congress to raise taxes think a supermajority of three-fifths of both Houses would suffice. While three-fifths would add a modicum of taxpayer protection in the House, three-fifths would add little if anything in the way of taxpayer protection in the Senate, which already often requires a three-fifths majority to proceed to consideration of legislation. The existing three-fifths rule in the Senate has often failed to protect taxpayers from federal tax increases in the past. A sound Balanced Budget Amendment would add protection for taxpayers in both Houses of Congress by a requirement for two-thirds majorities of the membership of both Houses to raise taxes.

Conclusion: Adopt the Two-Thirds Majority Requirement for Tax Hikes, to Make the Balanced Budget Amendment the Instrument of Spending Cuts and Not Tax Hikes

America’s soon-to-be New Minority—people who pay federal income tax—need protection from unreasonable taxation.[7] When all Americans have the right to vote, but only a minority has the duty to pay the federal income taxes from which all Americans benefit, the risk is high that a non-taxpaying majority will elect a Congress pledged to adopt taxation that oppresses the taxpaying minority. The impulse to seek something for nothing has regrettably taken root in the American body politic in the past century. The requirement in the Balanced Budget Amendment of a two-thirds majority of the membership of both Houses of Congress to raise taxes will protect a taxpaying minority against oppressive taxation.

As Congress continues on the path toward adopting a joint resolution to recommend a Balanced Budget Amendment to the states for ratification, Congress should ensure that the Amendment includes a requirement for approval by two-thirds of the membership of the two Houses of Congress for tax hikes. Absent such a requirement, the Balanced Budget Amendment will encourage tax hikes instead of spending cuts as the means to balance the budget, making the Amendment the friend of the tax, spend and borrow crowd, instead of the friend of those who believe in limited government, free enterprise, and individual freedom.

Edwin Meese III is the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal & Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

Edwin Meese, III

  • Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Edwin Meese III is a prominent leader, thinker and elder statesman in the conservative movement – and America itself.

Meese holds the Ronald Reagan Chair in Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation, where he is responsible for keeping the late president’s legacy of conservative principles alive in public debate and discourse.

He also is Chairman of Heritage’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, founded in 2001 to educate government officials, the media and the public about the Constitution, legal principles and how they affect public policy.

These two Heritage “hats” keep Meese, a trusted counselor to Reagan before becoming Attorney General, among the major conservative voices in national policy debates at an age when most men and women enjoy quiet retirements.

In 2006, for example, Meese was named to the Iraq Study Group, a special presidential commission dedicated to examining the best resolutions for America’s involvement in Iraq.

Immediately after Reagan’s death in 2004, and in the years since, Meese appeared on the major cable and broadcast news programs to discuss the lasting impact of his old friend, mentor and boss. He often summarizes the Reagan legacy in three accomplishments: 1) Reagan cut taxes and kept them low. 2) He worked to defeat and end the Soviet Union and its worldwide push for communism. 3) He restored America’s faith in itself after years of failure and “malaise.”

“I admired him as a leader and cherish his friendship,” Meese wrote in a 2004 essay for Heritage members and supporters. “Ronald Reagan had strong convictions. He was committed to the principles that had led to the founding of our nation. And he had the courage to follow his convictions against all odds.”

Meese spent much of his adult life working for Reagan, first after the former actor, sports announcer and athlete was elected Governor of California in 1966 and then when he sought and won the presidency in 1980.

Meese served as the 75th Attorney General of the United States from February 1985 to August 1988. As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, he directed the Justice Department and led international efforts to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime.

From January 1981 to February 1985, Meese held the position of Counsellor to the President – the senior job on the White House staff – and functioned as Reagan’s chief policy adviser. In 1985, he received Government Executive magazine’s annual award for excellence in management.

Meese joined Heritage in 1988 as the think tank’s first Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow – the only policy chair in the country to be officially named for the 40th president.

His relationship with Heritage began eight years earlier, however, when Meese met with senior management to discuss the think tank’s landmark policy guide, Mandate for Leadership, prepared for the incoming administration. Meese later recalled that Reagan personally handed out copies of the 1,093-page book to members of his Cabinet and asked them to read it. Nearly two-thirds of Mandate’s 2,000 recommendations would be adopted or attempted by the Reagan Administration.

Meese took on a new role as Chairman of Heritage’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies more than a decade after joining the think tank. Under his guidance, the center has counseled White House staffers, Justice Department officials and Senate Judiciary Committee members on the importance of filling judicial vacancies with qualified men and women who are committed to interpreting the Constitution according to the founding document’s original meaning.

The center also became known for hosting “moot court” practice sessions to sharpen the arguments of attorneys slated to bring important cases before the Supreme Court. Those cases addressed constitutional issues ranging from property rights to racial preferences in primary and secondary schools to restrictions on free speech in campaign finance law.

Meese headed the center’s Advisory Board for the writing and editing of the best-selling book, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (Regnery, 2005). The book assembles 109 experts to walk readers through a clause-by-clause analysis of the Constitution. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was among those keeping the reference work handy during Judiciary Committee hearings on Supreme Court nominees.

Meese’s other books include Leadership, Ethics and Policing (Prentice Hall, 2004); Making America Safer (Heritage, 1997); and With Reagan: The Inside Story (Regnery Gateway, 1992).

He also is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California and lectures, writes and consults throughout the United States on a variety of subjects.

As both Attorney General and Counsellor to President Reagan, Meese was a member of the Cabinet and the National Security Council. He also served as Chairman of the Domestic Policy Council and the National Drug Policy Board.

After Reagan won the White House in the 1980 election, Meese headed the transition team. In the campaign, he was the Reagan-Bush Committee’s senior official.

During the Reagan governorship, Meese served as Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff from 1969 through 1974 and as Legal Affairs Secretary from 1967 through 1968. He previously was Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, Calif.

Reagan never forgot Meese’s loyalty and hard work over the years. During a press conference at which reporters questioned Meese’s actions at the Justice Department, Reagan replied: “If Ed Meese is not a good man, there are no good men.”

Meese had a career outside government and politics. From 1977 to 1981, he was a Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he also directed the Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Management.

He was an executive in the aerospace and transportation industry as Vice President for Administration of Rohr Industries Inc. in Chula Vista, Calif. He left Rohr to return to the practice of law, doing corporate and general work in San Diego County.

Edwin Meese III was born Dec. 2, 1931, to Edwin Jr. and Leone Meese in Oakland, Calif. He graduated from Yale University in 1953 and holds a law degree from the University of California-Berkeley. A retired Colonel in the Army Reserve, he remains active in numerous civic and educational organizations.

He and his wife, Ursula, have two grown children and reside in McLean, Va.

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