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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.

Considering a Balanced Budget Amendment: Lessons from History

July 14, 2011


Abstract: Attempts at passing a balanced budget amendment (BBA) date back to the 1930s, and all have been unsuccessful. Both parties carry some of the blame: The GOP too often has been neglectful of the issue, and the Democratic Left, recognizing a threat to big government, has stalled and obfuscated, attempting to water down any proposals to mandate balanced budgets. On the occasion of the July 2011 vote on a new proposed BBA, former Representative from Oklahoma Ernest Istook presents lessons from history.

A proposed balanced budget amendment (BBA) to the Constitution is set to be considered by Congress this July—the first such vote since 1997.

The BBA is a powerful proposal that attracts great vitriol from the American Left, which recognizes it as an enormous threat to its big-government ways—perhaps the greatest threat. For that reason, the history of Congress’s work on a BBA is full of frustrations, high-profile defections, reversals, and betrayals.

This paper discusses that history. It also describes some of the milktoast versions and amendments that have been offered to gut the BBA while providing political cover for those who are unwilling to support a robust version.

Brief History

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1798, “I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government; I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.”[1] Yet according to the Congressional Research Service,[2] the first balanced budget amendment was not proposed until 1936, when Representative Harold Knutson (R–MN) introduced House Joint Resolution 579, proposing a per capita limit on federal debt.

No BBA measure passed either body of Congress until 1982, when the Senate took 11 days to consider it and mustered the necessary two-thirds majority on the version crafted by Senator Strom Thurmond (R–SC).[3] A companion measure received a vote of 236 to 187 in the House—short of the required two-thirds. Despite opposition from Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D–MA), the floor vote was obtained by means of a discharge petition led by Representatives Barber Conable (R–NY) and Ed Jenkins (D–GA).[4]

Subsequently, continuing opposition from Speaker O’Neill and his successor, Jim Wright (D–TX), prompted creative use of discharge petitions to circumvent leadership opposition. Several House votes were held in the early 1990s, when Representative Charles Stenholm (D–TX) led bipartisan coalitions to force Democratic leaders to permit (unsuccessful) floor votes. At the time, even prominent Democrats such as Representative Joseph Kennedy (MA) openly supported the BBA and voted for it. There were multiple House and Senate votes, but all were unsuccessful.[5]

The first and only time the House gave two-thirds approval to a balanced budget amendment was in 1995, when Members voted for the “Contract with America” that helped Republicans win major congressional majorities. That was the last time the House held a floor or committee vote. Since then, the Senate has failed twice—each time by a single vote—to gather the two-thirds needed.[6]

Defections Block BBA Approval

Three Senators were the key defectors who prevented Congress from approving a balanced budget amendment in the 1990s. One actually had never supported it and bucked his party to oppose it. The other two flip-flopped in order to go along with their party in opposing the BBA.

First, in 1995, Senator Mark Hatfield (R–OR) took the heat when he would not join his party in support of a BBA. But Hatfield’s vote would have been unnecessary had Senator Tom Daschle (D–SD) not reversed years of prior support to oppose the BBA at President Bill Clinton’s urging.

Then, in 1997, the measure again failed by a single vote in the Senate when newly elected Senator Robert Torricelli (D–NJ) broke his campaign pledge and refused to support the same BBA that he had supported as a House member.[7]

More recently, many House Democrats who voted for the BBA in 1995 are now saying they will vote no in 2011. Most notable among these is House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D–MD).

Senate Defections

Senator Hatfield called the BBA a “political gimmick,” and his high-profile defection broke GOP party unity. Less noticed was that his opposition could have been a moot point. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R–KS) told The New York Times that Hatfield offered to resign before the vote—a resignation that would have produced a 66-to-33 victory for the BBA—but Dole refused to accept the resignation offer.[8]

Still, with or without Hatfield’s vote or resignation, the BBA would have prevailed in the 1995 Senate vote were it not for Senator Daschle’s reversal. That flip-flop is described in a book about his later ousting from office by the voters:

Although the balanced budget amendment had not been a major issue nationally for several years, it provided a striking contrast between Daschle’s first campaign in 1978 and his early career in Congress, when he consistently promoted the amendment, and his later years in the Senate. During his last competitive Senate bid in 1986, Daschle ran a television ad saying that “in 1979, Tom Daschle saw the damage these deficits could do to our country. His first official act was to sponsor a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget.” In 1992, Daschle’s campaign literature touted the “Daschle Plan,” which included the balanced budget amendment: “In 1979, before it became popular, I was pushing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It was my first official action, and I’ve authored or coauthored one every year.” In 1995, the amendment had the support of sixty-six of the sixty-seven senators needed for passage, but Daschle voted against it because of opposition from the Clinton administration…. When pressed on the amendment in the last [2004] television debate, Daschle said that he had opposed the bill in the 1990s because there were no provisions in the amendment allowing for emergencies such as war. But the record showed that there was an emergency clause.[9]

In 2011, Daschle has penned several articles denouncing the BBA, complaining that it would make the country’s fiscal crisis even worse and would tie lawmakers’ hands.[10]

The 1997 effort to approve the BBA failed in the Senate by a single vote, just as it had in 1995. This time it was Senator Torricelli doing the political acrobatics. As the New York Daily News described it:

Sen. Robert Torricelli (D–N.J.) yesterday announced he will vote against the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution giving Democrats the one-vote margin they need to kill it. The freshman senator flipped on his campaign pledge to support the amendment and on his own past voting record in the House in favor of similar proposals. “I have struggled with this decision more than any I have ever made in my life,” Torricelli said…

Torricelli acknowledged that he had campaigned in support of the amendment to win his Senate seat last year and had voted three times in favor of similar amendments as a House member. But he said President Clinton’s efforts in bringing down annual budget deficits from $300 billion to $100 billion, and the President’s commitment to a balanced budget by 2002, had relieved the pressure for a constitutional amendment.[11]

Trying to give himself political cover, Torricelli tried but failed to get the Senate to support a loophole-riddled version.

House Reversals

Chief among Representatives who supported a BBA in 1995 but say they will actively oppose it in 2011 is Representative Hoyer. In 1995, he even helped to garner votes for the BBA. As the Baltimore Sun reported at the time, “‘The issue of a balanced budget is not a conservative one or a liberal one, and it is not an easy one,’ said Mr. Hoyer, who said he fears the consequences of a national debt that is headed toward $5 trillion. ‘But it is an essential one.’”[12] Arguing for the BBA on the House floor in 1995, Hoyer said:

[T]his country confronts a critical threat caused by the continuation of large annual deficits…. I am absolutely convinced that the long term consequences of refusing to come to grips with the necessity to balance our budget will be catastrophic…. [T]hose who will pay the highest price for our fiscal irresponsibility, should we fail, will be those least able to protect themselves, and the children of today and the generations of tomorrow.[13]

Hoyer reversed course after rising to high leadership within his party, as did Daschle. Daschle did a turnaround against the same language he previously had supported. Hoyer, however, argued that the latest 2011 version (with tax limitation and size-of-government limits) had gone beyond what he originally supported in 1995:

It would require drastic and harmful cuts to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, programs that form the heart of America’s social compact…. Unlike previous balanced budget amendments, this amendment would mean great pain for ordinary Americans, even as it shielded the most privileged from any comparable sacrifice. It is not a solution to our nation’s pressing fiscal challenges.[14]

It is an open question how other Democrats who supported the 1995 version of the BBA will vote on the tougher 2011 version.[15] They include another member of the current Democratic House leadership, James Clyburn (SC).

The GOP was also guilty of abandoning the BBA—by neglect. The BBA had been the number one item on its Contract with America legislative agenda in 1994, but after the single (and successful) 1995 House vote, House GOP leaders refused all entreaties to bring it up again. No House or Senate vote has been held since Torricelli’s dramatic about-face in 1997.

For part of the time while Republican leaders were dormant on a BBA, the budget was balanced. Rather than spotting an opportunity to cement that condition into a permanent requirement, however, some saw it as proving that a BBA is not needed.

During that time when the federal budget was balanced without a BBA requirement (fiscal years 1998–2001),[16] Congress had political incentives to maintain that balance. However, after 9/11, Washington not only ramped up national security spending, but also let other spending rise significantly. The prevailing notion seemed to be that if the budget was not balanced, then it mattered little just how far out of balance it was.

That experience illustrates not only the need for a proper BBA, but also the need for any national security exceptions to be drafted narrowly, to permit deficits only to the extent necessary to provide for non-routine defense circumstances and not to justify unrelated deficit spending.

Watering Down the BBA

The versions of the BBA to be voted on in 2011 are improvements over the Contract with America. Because of this strengthening, the current versions are described herein as “BBA-plus.”[17]

Simply put, the additional features require a supermajority to raise taxes; create limits on the level of federal spending (as a percentage of the national economy); tighten the permitted and limited exceptions to a balanced budget; and limit the potential for judicially imposed tax increases as a means of enforcement.

According to their strictness, different variations in proposed texts could be considered good, better, and best, with a full-featured BBA-plus being the best. But the greater the strictures, the more difficult passage becomes. Many pro-BBA lawmakers have therefore introduced and supported versions that were not as strong as they prefer but have greater likelihood of adoption.

These variations also create potential for mischief. Because they recognize the huge popular support for the BBA, many opponents have attempted to offer amendments and variations that would water down or emasculate the provisions of the BBA so that they could posture as supporters while justifying their “no” votes. The following is a historical synopsis of those tactics.

Taking Social Security Off-Budget. The most prominently advanced effort to weaken a BBA is a provision to separate Social Security payments and receipts from the requirements for a balanced budget. Amendments to do so were offered in both the House and Senate from 1995 to 1997. Senator Harry Reid (D–NV) was a principal leader of that effort in 1997.

Reid and others argued that removing Social Security from a BBA would protect the program from spending cuts. They argued that its funds do not actually constitute government spending since the program involves a trust fund. This ignored the fact that the entirety of the trust fund has been invested in federal bonds and that all of the borrowed money has been spent. Furthermore, during the 1990s, the Social Security program was producing annual surpluses ranging from $60 billion to $65 billion, which disguised deficit spending elsewhere. Today, Social Security runs an annual deficit.

If Social Security were removed from a BBA’s requirements, Congress would be approving major deficit spending while not counting it as a deficit. Politicians would only be pretending to have balanced the budget. As the Congressional Budget Office reported this past January, “Excluding interest, surpluses for Social Security become deficits of $45 billion in 2011 and $547 billion over the 2012–2021 period.”[18]

The Torricelli Ploy. As previously mentioned, the most transparent ploy to create an excuse for opposing the BBA came in 1997 from newly elected Senator Robert Torricelli. As a House member, he had voted for a substitute version and also voted “yea” on final passage of the Contract with America BBA in 1995. He campaigned for the Senate in 1996 as a BBA supporter.

As heads were counted for the 1997 Senate vote, it was apparent that Torricelli and Senator Mary Landrieu (D–LA), both previous BBA supporters, were the swing votes. If both voted “yea,” the necessary two-thirds would be achieved in the Senate. President Clinton lobbied both Senators to vote “nay.” Landrieu announced that she would vote yes, and Torricelli announced that he would vote no. Reporters openly asked him whether “he drew the short straw.”

In a move that was publicly derided, Torricelli offered an amendment to the BBA on the Senate floor and then announced he would vote no because the amendment failed. Then, minutes later in a news conference, he undercut his own explanation by stating that in the future, he would vote no on all Republican versions of a BBA and yes on all Democratic versions.

Torricelli’s unsuccessful amendment would have waived the balanced budget requirement whenever a simple majority in Congress declared “an imminent and serious military threat” or “a period of economic recession or significant economic hardship” or when Congress chose to approve deficit spending for “investments in major public physical capital that provides long-term economic benefits.”[19] The three-pronged nature of Torricelli’s effort was a lumping together of provisions that were also offered separately in both the House and Senate by others.

Other Diluting Amendments. The following is a sampling of other proposals offered on the House or Senate floors during the 1995–1997 considerations:[20]

  • Representative Robert Wise (D–WV) offered a multifaceted substitute that would have provided for separate federal capital and operating budgets; would have required that only the operating budget be balanced; would have exempted Social Security from balanced budget calculations; and would have permitted Congress to waive the balanced budget provisions in times of war, military conflict, or recession.
  • Senator Richard Durbin (D–IL) tried to insert the following language into the BBA: “The provisions of this article may be waived for any fiscal year in which there is an economic recession or serious economic emergency in the United States as declared by a joint resolution, adopted by a majority of the whole number of each House, which becomes law.”
  • Senator Barbara Boxer (D–CA) proposed, “The provisions of this article may be waived for any fiscal year in which there is a declaration made by the President (and a designation by the Congress) that a major disaster or emergency exists, adopted by a majority vote in each House of those present and voting.”
  • Representative Major Owens (D–NY) wanted “to allow a majority of Congress to waive the balanced budget provisions contained in the joint resolution in any fiscal year that the national unemployment rate exceeds 4 percent.”
  • Representative John Conyers (D–MI) wanted to require a detailed plan of spending cuts before balance could be required, proposing “to exempt Social Security from balanced budget calculations; and provide that before the constitutional amendment could take effect, Congress would be required to pass legislation showing what the budget will be for the fiscal years 1996 through 2002, containing aggregate levels of new budget authority, outlays, reserves, and the deficit and surplus, as well as new budget authority and outlays on an account-by-account basis.”
  • Representative David Bonior (D–MI) tried not only to exempt Social Security from the calculations, but also to require only a simple constitutional majority vote (218 in the House, 51 in the Senate) to allow deficit spending.
  • Additional amendments were more straightforward, such as whether a supermajority would or would not be required to raise taxes under the BBA. The House Rules Committee screened out 38 proposed floor amendments; only six were permitted.


History shows that the potency of a balanced budget amendment attracts fervent efforts to confuse the issues, especially by creating counterfeit versions and exceptions to provide political cover. Proponents of a BBA should prepare accordingly.

If not for high-profile political defections in the mid-1990s, the BBA would have been approved by Congress. Had it then been ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states, today’s debates over borrowing limits, entitlements, and spending levels would be greatly different, if not absent.

However, the versions considered in the ’90s were notably weaker than both the House and Senate versions of the BBA-plus now being considered. Had an earlier version been adopted, today’s debate might be about efforts by Congress to evade the spirit of the BBA by exploiting loopholes in that earlier version. This is why vigilance is necessary to prevent the insertion of loopholes into the language of a BBA-plus.

Those who do not learn from the failures of history are doomed to repeat them.

The Honorable Ernest J. Istook, Jr., a former Member of Congress, is Distinguished Fellow in Government Studies in the Department of Government Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

President Obama’s job speech reacted to by Heritage Foundation scholars (Part 4)

President Obama’s job speech reacted to by Heritage Foundation scholars (Part 4)

Ernest Istook at the Saint Paul Tea Party Rally 4/16/2011 Part 1

Ernest Istook, US Congressman, Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org, spoke at the Saint Paul Tea Party Rally 4/16/2011. Hosted by North Star Tea Party Patriots, and Sue Jeffers.

I love going to the Heritage Foundation website because of articles like this:

Heritage’s experts watched President Barack Obama’s jobs speech delivered to a joint session of Congress. Here are some of their immediate reactions:

President Calls for Ill-advised Federal School Construction

As expected, tonight President Obama called on taxpayers to send their hard-earned money to the federal government so that Washington can pour that money into public school construction. In an attempt to boost job growth, the president suggested spending billions on school infrastructure projects to “modernize 35,000 public schools.”

Since President Obama came into office, spending on public education has skyrocketed:

  • Education budget in 2008: $59.2 billion
  • Education budget in 2011: $69.9 billion
  • Department of Education “stimulus” award (Spring 2009): $98 billion
  • “Edujobs” public education bailout (Summer 2010): $10 billion

And state and local school construction spending has also seen significant increases.

By some estimates, inflation-adjusted school construction spending has increased 150 percent in the last two decades. And unfortunately, profligacy and waste are the norm. Remember the $500 million RFK high school in Los Angeles, built last year after a California bond referendum was enacted? There are certainly schools in ill-repair, but this maintenance should be a local concern. Washington should not be in the business of school window repair, updating facilities, or repainting buildings. Schools don’t need increased federal funding for school repairs; they need more flexibility with funding to be able to use dollars for needs they consider pressing.

The president’s proposal to funnel more taxpayer dollars into school construction has both constitutional and pragmatic problems. School construction has historically been – and should remain – the job of states and localities. Federal forays into school construction have been rare and indirect. Federally-funded school construction is also a terribly expensive way to build schools: Washington-funded jobs must pay prevailing wages, increasing costs on average by 22 percent.

In calling for federally-funded school construction, President Obama is once again supporting Washington overreach in education. But he’s also behind the game in terms of the direction school policy is trending. As states and localities begin embracing online learning  – and as education shifts to a world outside of the walls of physical school buildings – President Obama is pushing to subsidize the old model. The administration might think “school construction” polls better than other government “jobs” projects, but it’s just as destined to be a waste of taxpayer money, and a public policy failure.

– Lindsey Burke

Not A ‘Jobs Plan’ — Just Stimulus Redux

What President Obama calls a “jobs” plan is really just stimulus redux: a typical Keynesian-style set of infrastructure, school construction, teacher pay, unemployment benefits, and temporary tax breaks that have demonstrably failed in the two-and-a-half years since the $825-billion Recovery Act.

Obamanomics has left the economy with a growth rate just a fraction above 1 percent, nearly 2 million fewer Americans working, and an unemployment rate higher now than when he took office. Government cannot “grow the economy” (as if it were a field of strawberries), and it cannot create private sector jobs. It can only maintain conditions conducive to growth — limiting government spending and regulation, keeping tax rates low, and removing the uncertainties caused by feckless public policies.

– Patrick Knudsen

The Tea Party is watching the votes of this Congress

Ernest Istook, US Congressman, Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org, spoke at the Saint Paul Tea Party Rally 4/16/2011. Hosted by North Star Tea Party Patriots, and Sue Jeffers.


Being in Boston this week and walking the Freedom Trail  was a great experience. Lots of the information the tour guides gave was about Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty that put together the Boston Tea Party. What would they think of this congress today?

File:J S Copley - Samuel Adams.jpg

Here is list of the notable members of the Sons of Liberty according to Wikipedia:

I got to hear Ernest Istook of the Heritage Foundation speak in Little Rock a while back and I wrote about it on this blog. Mr. Istook is a Tea Party favorite speaker and the Heritage Foundation website (www.Heritage.org) is one of my favorite website. I am so glad that Heritage Action is grading the members of Congress on their votes. See below this article that came out today:

Mike Needham

Sneak Peak: A Tough Conservative Scorecard

Mike Needham

With every vote cast in Congress, freedom either advances or recedes. From reckless spending and stifling regulations to Obamacare, Americans see their freedoms – and those of their children and grandchildren – slipping away. We went to the polls last November to turn the tide. And while conservatives are winning the day on the message, the policy is lagging.

Later this week, Heritage Action will release our first legislative scorecard, which will show which Members of Congress are saying the right things AND doing the right things. Conversely, those who say one thing and do another will no longer be able to hide. This will be a revealing barometer of a lawmaker’s willingness to fight for principled conservative policies in Congress.

Allow me to pull back the curtain just a bit.

No single Senator or Representative achieved a perfect score – something that is practically unheard of in the world of Congressional scorecards, but reflects the fact that there is no perfect politician in Washington. The average in the Democrat-controlled Senate was 39%. Liberal politicians in the House bring the average down to 42% in the GOP-controlled chamber.

While the House has done many big things right this year – the bold House budget, the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, and Obamacare repeal, for example – conservatives still had too many losses with moderate Republicans teaming up with Democrats to defeat good legislation. As a result, the GOP average in the House is only 67%. Senate Republicans did better with a 76% average, though they have not yet voted on the often revealing appropriations bills. In all, 13 Senators and 27 Representatives scored an 85% or higher.

Like I told the crowd at the RedState.com Gathering a couple weeks ago, we are tough graders and don’t apologize for it. After all, we are conservatives, not tenured university professors.

And if there is one thing conservatives need, especially in Washington, it is unapologetic champions. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, one such champion, is “thrilled” about the scorecard. She said, “it is time now that we look at the spending habits of our legislators. It’s time that we look at what they’re doing with debt. It’s time that we look at how they’re spending taxpayer money.”

When the federal government engages in the sort of reckless spending that has come to define the previous decade, freedom recedes as the power and scope of the federal government expands. America’s future – and the economic freedom of our children and grandchildren – diminishes.

Heritage Action’s scorecard encompasses 30 votes and five co-sponsorship scores in the House and 19 votes and four co-sponsorship scores in the Senate. The votes cover the full spectrum of conservatism, and include legislative action on issues both large and small.

There is a tendency among some lawmakers to do the right thing on the big issues – repeal of Obamacare, for example – and then revert to “big government conservatism” on the small issues when they think no one is looking.

For example, 105 House Republicans joined every Democrat in voting against an amendment by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) which would have cut $3 billion from Interior-Environment appropriations. In the Senate, 15 Republicans joined every Democrat in killing an amendment that would have repealed the non-essential Essential Air Services. These two votes are illustrative of the challenges conservatives face in Congress.

Our task is daunting, but not impossible. After a long hard fight, conservatives won the day on earmarks. Now, we must lead the fight against small bills that expand the size and scope of government. Legislation like the NAT GAS Act (HR1380) and extension of trade adjustment assistance’s welfare-style benefits must be made as politically toxic as earmarks.

Highlighting these small votes, as well as holding the line on contentious issues like the near-blank check debt ceiling increase, has ruffled some Establishment feathers. According to the Weekly Standard, Members of Congress are taking note:

[Heritage Action’s] newfound influence in politics—not just policy—has rankled a few Republicans otherwise in good conservative standing, especially since Heritage Action announced it would be scoring certain votes.

Heritage Action does not do electoral politics, but we certainly do policy politics. With all the economic indicators pointing towards anemic economic growth, if not another recession, Americans are looking for principled leadership that can steer our country off the path of slow decline and towards actual economic growth. The next 15 months are an opportunity to define the future of America – prosperity, or slow decline.

If we’re going to save the American dream for our children and grandchildren, we cannot pull punches or engage in partisan “rah-rah” type actions. Heritage Action’s scorecard will be revealing – and a tool for conservatives outside the beltway to hold their Members of Congress accountable and get America back on track.

Mike Needham

Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans
Related posts:

Ernest Istook of the Heritage Foundation speaks in Little Rock on 6-22-11 (Part 1)

The third monthly luncheon with featured speaker Ernest Istook was excellent. First, we got to hear from Dave Elswick of KARN   who came up with the idea of this luncheon, and then from Teresa Crossland of Americans for Prosperity. Below is a portion of Istook’s biography from the Heritage Foundation:   Ernest Istook Distinguished Fellow Government Studies Ernest […]

Ernest Istook: “it’s time to put away childish things” and tackle deficit, will Senator Mark Pryor do it?

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor at the 2009 DPA J-J Dinner U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor at the 2009 Democratic Party Jefferson Jackson Dinner, Arkansas’s largest annual political event. (Did you notice that besides Mike Ross, EVERY OTHER DEMOCRAT THAT PRYOR MENTIONS DOING SUCH A GREAT JOB IN WASHINGTON IS NO LONGER IN OFFICE, SNYDER, LINCOLN, and BERRY)

Brummett: Tea Party is “right-wing extremists” and are causing debt ceiling crisis

Ernest Istook at the Saint Paul Tea Party Rally 4/16/2011 Part 1

John Brummett in his article “Taking a stand  upside the face,” July 30, 2011, Arkansas News Bureau, asserted:

The problem is that hard-right, tea party-inspired Republicans ought to be marginalized in the debate, paid no attention, while mainstream Republicans and Democrats fashion a practical compromise of strategic spending cuts and routine agreement to pay our debts, which ought to go without saying. But mainstream Republicans have been cowed by these right-wing extremists, leading to a potential debt default and likely lowering of our country’s credit rating. This could well cause harm to all of us economically. We are left only with the option to get behind the bipartisan last-gasp efforts of the Senate leaders, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, while tea party types get invited to go take the proverbial flying leap.


What is the root of the problem? Is it the Tea Party right wing Republicans? Or is it the uncontrolled spending? Why can’t we eliminate the Dept of Education and cut out the food stamp program that has doubled in the last 3 or 4 years?

My response is very simple. I saw a video clip by Reason TV on the debt ceiling and it showed a husband and wife at the dinner table looking over a pile of credit card bills. She  tells her husband that they are 14 trillion in debt and his response is, “We will get more credit cards!!” Her expression is classic when he says this. It is also very humorous when he walks into the next room and tells his one year old son who is now standing, “I need you to grow and get a job.” His son’s puzzled look is also very funny.

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 Here are some thoughts from Reason TV below followed by an article on food stamps.

Uploaded by on Mar 1, 2011

[Editor’s Note: Go to http://reason.com/blog/2011/03/01/raising-the-debt-limit-it-just for details, charts, and links]

Some say the world will end in fire and some say in ice.

But in Washington, a lot of people say it will end if we don’t continually raise the debt ceiling.

The statutory debt limit, or debt ceiling, represents the maximum amount of debt the federal government can carry at any given time. The limit was created in 1917 so that Congress wouldn’t have to vote every time the government wanted to increase the amount of debt (which was becoming a more and more frequent occasion). Since then, the Treasury Department has had the authority to issue new debt up to whatever the limit is to fund government needs. Last year, the limit was raised to $14.3 trillion, an amount that is about to reached.

As it approaches, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has said failing to raise the limit would likely mean the U.S. would default on its debt, creating “real chaos” in place of the fake chaos that’s out there now. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said that failing to raise the limit would be “deeply irresponsible” and and Austan Goolsbee, President Obama’s chief economic adviser, has said that not raising the limit would create “the first default in history caused purely by insanity.”

Eh, maybe.

As Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy, has pointed out, we’ve maxed out the nation’s credit card in the past without such dire results. In the mid-1980s, the mid-1990s, and in 2002, for instance, the debt limit wasn’t raised for months at a time and the government got along just swell. The government has a big bag of tools it can use, ranging from playing around with the amount of spending that is liable to the limit to prioritizing interest and debt payments over other outlays. Interest on the debt for this year is projected to be about $225 billion and government revenue is expected to be around $2.2 trillion, so the government can easily pay the vig and avoid defaulting.

What it shouldn’t do is simply keep piling on the debt. The limit has been raised no fewer than 10 times in the past decade. When Republicans ran the White House and the Congress, they voted overwhelmingly to charge it and Democrats, including Sen. Obama, hollered bloody murder. In 2006, he called the need to yet again increase the debt limit “a sign of leadership failure.” Now that Dems run the show, the GOP has suddenly rediscovered its inner cheapskate.

So it goes.

The boldest plan to rein in spending and debt comes from newcomer Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Tea Party favorite who dispatched Republican incumbent Bob Bennett in the primaries before coasting to victory in the general election last fall. Lee has vowed to block passage of a debt-limit increase unless Congress signs on to his balanced-budget amendment which would cap annual federal spending at 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The amendment would require a super-majority of two-thirds in the Senate and House of Representatives. Lee’s bill is competing with another Republican proposal from Sens. Hatch (Utah) and Cornyn (Texas) to cap spending at 20 percent of GDP. The Hatch-Cornyn bill has weaker rules on its higher cap as well.

In 2010, spending came to about 24 percent of GDP and it’s expected to come in around 25 percent of GDP in 2011. Since 1950, total federal revenues have averaged 17.8 percent and have reached higher than 20 percent exactly once. Spending over the same time has averaged just under 20 percent.

Whether Lee’s proposal carries the day — and there’s a strong case that its passage would do more to calm financial markets than simply bumping up the federal credit line — neither the Democratic nor the Republican leadership has yet to advance a serious proposal to cut spending and reduce outstanding debt. Indeed, both the president’s budget proposal for 2012 and the generally non-existent Republican response are not only deeply irresponsible but clear signs of insanity.

That ain’t right. But it does help explain why a government that has increased spending over 62 percent in real dollars can no longer get by on a $14 trillion debt ceiling.

For more info, go to http://reason.com/blog/2011/03/01/raising-the-debt-limit-it-just

Video written and produced by Austin Bragg. Article text by Nick Gillespie.


Food Stamp Price Tag Rising


Food stamp usage is at record levels according to the New York Times, with one in eight Americans now receiving benefits. There are several reasons for the upswing, including expanded eligibility in the 2000s and the severe economic downturn. The following chart shows the dramatic rise in spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as the Food Stamp program until 2008 when Congress changed its name to sound more palatable.  


Most Americans think that we should aid those in real need, but individuals should do so voluntarily without resorting to forced government transfers.  
The Times gives three examples of people who recently started receiving food aid. Each offers some food for thought.
The first is a 45 year-old Harlem widow with an annual income of $15,000. A food bank had encouraged her to apply for the benefits:
A big woman with a broad smile, Ms. Bostick-Thomas swept into the group’s office a few days later, talking up her daughters’ college degrees and bemoaning the cost of oxtail meat. “I’m not saying I go hungry,” Ms. Bostick-Thomas said. “But I can’t always eat what I want.” The worker projected a benefit of $147 a month. “That’s going to help!” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone and applied on my own.”
I don’t know this woman’s exact circumstances, and there’s no reason to doubt she needs assistance. But aren’t her college-educated daughters in a position to help their mother? Government welfare undermines the traditional role the family played in mutual assistance.
Here’s the second example: 
Juan Diego Castro, 24, is a college graduate and Americorps volunteer whose immigrant parents warned him “not to be a burden on this country.” He has a monthly stipend of about $2,500 and initially thought food stamps should go to needier people, like the tenants he organizes. “My concern was if I’m taking food stamps and I have a job, is it morally correct?” he said.
But federal law eases eligibility for Americorps members, and a food bank worker urged him and fellow volunteers to apply, arguing that there was enough aid to go around and that use would demonstrate continuing need. “That meeting definitely turned us around,” Mr. Castro said.
This fellow’s annualized monthly stipend is more than I made in my first job in Washington. And for Mr. Castro, who was warned not to be a burden on this country, he ought to be told that the federal Americorps program is exactly that. But more disconcerting is the fact that the food bank worker urged him and his colleagues to go the dole in order to advertise it.
This anecdote illustrates Michael Tanner’s argument that government poverty programs serve vested interests:
Among the non-poor with a vital interest in anti-poverty programs are social workers and government employees who administer the programs. Thus, anti-poverty programs are usually more concerned with protecting the prerogatives of the bureaucracy than with fighting poverty.
The last example from the Times is a Columbian immigrant who missed three months of work as a janitor because she fell and had to have knee surgery:
Last November, she limped into a storefront church in Queens, where a food bank worker was taking applications beside the pews.
About her lost wages, she struck a stoic pose, saying her san cocho — Colombian soup — had less meat and more plantains. But her composure cracked when she talked of the effect on her 10-year-old daughter. “My refrigerator is empty,” Ms. Catano said.
Last month, Ms. Catano was back at work, with a benefit of $170 a month and no qualms about joining 38 million Americans eating with government aid. “I had the feeling that working people were not eligible,” she said. “But then they told me, ‘No, no, the program has improved.’”
This is precisely the sort of person that is deserving of charity. But the federal government isn’t a charity; it is a forced transfer machine. The less fortunate, and society as a whole, would be better off if the taxes paid to support inefficient, counterproductive government programs were instead left in the hands of supportive individuals and organizations. 

See this essay for more on government food subsidies.

Letter to Senator Mark Pryor concerning debt ceiling debate July 26, 2011

Dear Senator Pryor,

The President asked us to contact those representing us in Washington and that is exactly what I am doing today. Let make a few points.

First, in the past few months I have responded to your request to provide SPECIFIC SPENDING CUT SUGGESTIONS to your office. I have done so over 100 times and I have also posted them one at a time on my blog www.HaltingArkansasLiberalswithTruth.com .

Second, I have also written many posts concerning your political views and many of these articles have got lots of hits on my blog. In fact, when I started in December of 2010 I was only getting a handful of hits every week, but now I have got over 60,000 hits in the first 7 months on my website and I have you to thank for a lot of those hits.

Third, Arkansas is turning conservative and I wonder if you will change with Arkansas. Just recently you went across the state saying that the Republicans wanted to push granny off the cliff. Does that sound like you are open to making changes to make sure that Medicare survives?

Fourth, you wanted me to give you specific suggestions to cut federal spending. I have an easy one for you: Eliminate the Dept of Education!! That would save over 100 billion right there!!!

Fifth, if you want to raise taxes on the job creators during this time then you will be guilty of  destroying the recovery. You have already been guilty of slowly down the recovery with the silly stimulus bill. Every prediction that President Obama made about the stimulus have proven to be incorrect!!! Everyone of them!!!

I have done my duty that my President asked me to do by contacting you. Below you will find a letter that says perfectly what I think about this current debt ceiling crisis. Recently I got to hear Ernest Istook the president of the Heritage Foundation speak in Little Rock. He did a great job.

Below is an excerpt from a letter that went out today from the Heritage Foundation:

Our nation is in the midst of a fiscal crisis, but it is one that has nothing to do with an August 2 “deadline” for a deal or President Obama and Secretary Geithner’s fear mongering over recent days and weeks. The crisis is one of over $62 trillion in unfunded obligations that are the loudest warning bell possible of the systemic problems plaguing our nation. Washington should not ignore or postpone dealing with this problem once again.

Twice already this year, the House of Representatives has voted for plans that would address our fiscal crisis and save our nation from a creditworthiness downgrade. In April, the House passed a bold budget, which would place our nation on a different, more sustainable and prosperous course. Last week, the House passed the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which would force future Congresses to live within their means and rapidly bring down our nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio. Unfortunately, both of these responsible proposals were defeated by an ideological Senate, which has offered few ideas of its own.

Clearly, the most blame belongs to the President and the Senate – a President who comes up with no useful fiscal plan of his own and a Senate that refuses to pass meaningful legislation to save the American dream from a fiscal tsunami. We cannot, however, continue business as usual by raising the debt limit without substantively addressing our nation’s fiscal challenges. The entire purpose of the debt limit is to put an end to borrowing when it reaches a point that our nation finds unacceptable. There is no point in having a debt limit if the option of using it to address overspending and overborrowing is so intimidating that it is unilaterally taken off the table.


Speaker Boehner’s most recent proposal to raise the debt limit is regrettably insufficient to our times. Step one of the Speaker’s proposal would cut $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending. Assuming all of these cuts materialized, this would reduce our nation’s projected debt at the end of the decade from $24.9 trillion to $23.7 trillion. Step two would create a special committee, which has three major problems: (1) The “deficit reduction” of $1.8 trillion remains insufficient for our times; (2) “Deficit reduction” is a well-known codeword for “tax increases”; and (3) 17 blue-ribbon panels, commissions and the like since 1982 have gotten our nation into the mess we are in and there is no obvious reason as to why the 18th will get us out. Further, this proposal would outline a fast track proposal that unduly limits the rights of the congressional minority.

All in all, under a best case scenario where all of the cuts envisioned in the Boehner plan come to fruition, they would only reduce our nation’s projected debt-to-GDP ratio from 104% to 92% – a ratio far higher than its current 62 percent, which Moody’s has already said must come down to maintain our nation’s stable outlook.

Harry Reid’s proposal to raise the debt ceiling is equally unacceptable. It appears to be the latest in a line of proposals that began with the McConnell Proposal, morphed into the McConnell-Reid Proposal, further deteriorated into the Gang of Six Proposal, and has now resurfaced as the Reid Proposal. Each of these insufficiently bold ideas would lead to an increase in the debt limit in exchange for few, if any, actual cuts off existing spending levels. In normal times we might take these as one step toward a path of fiscal sanity.  But we do not have the luxury of taking that kind of small first step at this juncture.  The rating agencies are poised to downgrade us within months if we don’t pass something like the House of Representatives’ first two attempts . . .  The last thing our country needs is a clean debt limit increase with some fancy window dressing to try to fool the American people.

All in all, Heritage Action remains where we were at the start of the summer: absolutely convinced our nation is in fiscal crisis and certain that bold political leadership is necessary to save the American dream. Congress should drive down federal spending on the way to a balanced budget, while protecting America, and without raising taxes. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be what we will get from Washington, which has irresponsibly turned its back on the only real plans out there: The House Budget and the Cut, Cap and Balance Act. As such, Washington should be forced to live under the current debt limit until it’s ready to make tough choices – choices that it should make, and has time to make, this week.


Michael A. Needham
Chief Executive Officer


Thank you for your time. I know that you are very busy.

From Everette Hatcher

Alexander, AR 72002

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John Brummett in his article, “By Pryor prediction, gang of 6 emerges,” Arkansas News Bureau, July 21, 2011 asserts: So what’s in this great new plan from the Gang of Six? Only about $4 trillion in real deficit reduction achieved by deep defense cuts, commission-delegated reductions in spending for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, plugging […]


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