There’s an effort trying to gain momentum to call a convention under Article V of the Constitution. If two-thirds of the states were to apply, then the Constitution could be amended with a three-fourths vote of the states.
It’s a long shot, but then, what we’re doing isn’t working, as we’ve seen from Congress the past six months.
Let’s review. There was the government shutdown in October because Congress couldn’t agree on what to do when the country reached the debt ceiling, which is the limit above which the national debt legally cannot rise.
Then in December, the House and Senate voted for a two-year broad budget deal, followed by a January deal to fund the government for 2014.
This was progress in that it was the first budget passed by Congress in four years. On the other hand, it came nowhere near balancing the budget. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the national debt, now $17.3 trillion, will increase by almost $1 trillion in the next two years (as it would have, more or less, without these agreements). It also will continue the country down a path that the CBO projects will increase the national debt by $8 trillion by 2024.
One trillion dollars is equal to almost $3,200 for every American man, woman and child, and $17.3 trillion is equal to almost $55,000 for every American.
That’s how much debt we’re in, so far.
Also, the December deal replaced some of the previous automatic spending cuts enacted through an arrangement known as a sequester with cuts that will take place a decade from now — when some future Congress can just put off the hard choices once again, assuming that will still be an option.
President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said, “The buck stops here.” This budget reflects a different philosophy: Pass the buck.
This past week, the House and Senate both narrowly voted to suspend the debt ceiling for a year. The debt ceiling does serve as a useful reminder that the national debt exists, but suspending it was preferable to another budget train wreck like the government shutdown of 2013, which didn’t help anybody.
Anyway, reaching the debt ceiling wouldn’t actually stop the government from accruing more debt absent other reforms. Mostly, Uncle Sam simply would be late paying its bills. Any savings would be eaten up by higher interest rates because the markets would lose faith in the government as a credit risk. Then more of our tax dollars would go to the government’s lenders, including the foreign ones.
Congress also voted this week to reinstate cost-of-living increases for military veterans that had been cut by the December budget agreement it had enacted only two months earlier. Of course, who could be for cutting veterans’ benefits? The problem was the way the restoration will be paid for – as with the budget deal, by passing the buck and cutting spending 10 years from now.
So in the past two months, Congress has passed budget deals that failed to meaningfully address the country’s debt problem. That debt will grow because there’s not a single year anywhere on the horizon when the government is expected to collect more than it spends. Meanwhile, instead of just passing on debt to our children, Congress also has gotten into the habit of passing on responsibility to future lawmakers.
Is such a body capable of reforming itself? The Constitution does provide an alternative.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.