Tuesday, June 18, 2024

OPINION: ‘Save us from ourselves,’ says Congress

by CHUCK MALLOY/Guest Opinion
| February 2, 2024 1:00 AM

Given the conservative nature of the Idaho Legislature, you’d think that a resolution calling for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution would sail through with flying colors.

Not so. There’s no dispute that federal spending is out of control, but there are several concerns surrounding a constitutional amendment. Is it possible, or even practical, to balance the federal budget? What would happen in the case of a national emergency — such as the 9/11 terrorist attack on America 23 years ago? Do we shut off aid to Israel and Ukraine because of lack of money? Do we say “sorry” to the agents battling immigration problems at the southern border, for lack of money?

Perhaps the biggest concern is what would happen if there were a constitutional convention. The fear is that it could open the door for anything, including tinkering with everything else in the Constitution, including the Second Amendment — the most sacred of cows in Idaho.

Twenty-seven states have signed on to calling for a constitutional convention to consider a balanced budget amendment — seven short of what’s needed to force action by Congress. Although a budget amendment has some momentum nationally, getting to that magic number of 34 won’t be easy.

But according to our congressional delegation, a balanced budget is a “must.” All four members of the delegation have given up on the ability of Congress to contain federal spending, or make headway on eliminating the $34 trillion debt. Three of the members — Sens. Mike Crapo, Jim Risch and Congressman Mike Simpson are co-sponsors of balanced budget resolutions. Congressman Russ Fulcher is an avid supporter.

“With the U.S. debt (at) $34 trillion, it is obvious that there is a serious problem,” says Risch. “A constitutional amendment provides the only option to return fiscal sanity to Washington.”

It’s easy to fault President Biden and the Democrats for this mess, and the delegation is not shy about pointing fingers at the president. But former President Trump, the pride and joy of the Republican Party and Idaho’s delegation, was hardly a budget hawk. The debt soared by $8 trillion during his four years in office. Risch, for one, thinks there is plenty of blame to go around.

“As much as I have often railed against the excessive spending habits of Democrats, I also acknowledge that Republicans have done a poor job in getting our nation’s fiscal house in order,” Risch says.

Crapo, in addition to supporting a budget amendment, has promoted zero-based budgeting — a failed concept from the Carter administration. It shows he’ll try anything, even old ideas, to force fiscal responsibility.

“A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution would go a long way toward reining in runaway federal spending,” Crapo said. “Balancing the federal budget would require a careful scrutiny of all programs funded by the American taxpayer. We cannot spend ourselves into prosperity and it is past time to put our fiscal house in order.”

Says Simpson: “Like many Idahoans, I am alarmed by the increase in government spending and its impact on our growing national debt. Having a balanced budget is a step in the right direction to get our budget crisis under control, and to ensure our children and grandchildren are not saddled with trillions in debt.”

Says Fulcher: “One of the primary responsibilities of any legislator is to wisely spend taxpayer money. America’s $34 trillion debt load is testament to the level of collective wisdom exhibited by Congress in this area over recent decades. Businesses have to. Families have to. The difference with the U.S. government is that it has the ability to legally deficit spend. Predictably, that ability has been abused because it enables legislators to vote for more services than they have direct responsibility to pay for.”

The delegation’s push for fiscal responsibility is laudable. The grim reality is that a budget amendment is a longshot, at best, and the debt will continue to rise by a couple trillion dollars a year regardless of who occupies the White House.

Idaho’s aging delegation may not be around long enough to see the dire consequences of congressional inaction.

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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.