DeFazio Submits Testimony to House Judiciary Committee in Support of a Balanced Budget Amendment
Rep. Peter DeFazio today submitted testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in strong support of a balanced budget amendment.
Rep. DeFazio has supported a balanced budget amendment throughout his time in Congress, and has repeatedly introduced his own legislation, H.J. Res 109, which would amend the U.S. Constitution to include a balanced budget amendment. This legislation would also require any military conflict that is not a congressionally-declared war to be counted as part of the budget, and protect Social Security and Medicare funds from being raided in order to pay for other government spending.
In his testimony, DeFazio writes,
“Some of my Democratic colleagues are opposed to a balanced budget amendment because it forces Congress to make tough decisions that could include spending cuts to programs that are important to them, and to me. I urge them to not lose sight of the fact that passing a balanced budget amendment needs support from Republicans and Democrats…Instead of tackling the most pressing problems that our country is dealing with, we spend our time in Washington lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis while counties and cities across the United States are left without the resources they need to plan for critical road and bridge construction and repair projects and critical social and nutritional programs are underfunded. I urge my colleagues to take responsibility for the national debt and pass a balanced budget amendment.”
Rep. DeFazio’s full testimony to the Judiciary Committee is included below.
Testimony to the Committee on the Judiciary
Hearing on the Need for a Balanced Budget Amendment
Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR)
July 27, 2017
Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers:
Thank you for inviting me to testify on the necessity of a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA). During a time of distractions and gridlock, I commend the Judiciary Committee for bringing this issue to the table. It’s a rare and refreshing demonstration of bipartisanship in the current environment.
Today we are faced with a national debt of nearly $20 trillion and the expectation that our government will run out of money to pay its debts in October. If the federal limit on borrowing is not raised, for the first time in our nation’s history we will default, resulting in plunging markets around the world, rising global interest rates, and a downgrade in our nation’s debt rating. I am alarmed that while Congress continues to lurch from crisis-to-crisis, we are avoiding the bigger issue—our failure to balance the budget.
While Democrats and Republicans haven’t agreed on much recently, we can all agree that Congress needs to do its job and put an end to our nation’s skyrocketing debt. A growing national debt is dangerous – to address the increasing risk they won’t be repaid, debt holders can demand larger payments from the federal government, increasing interest rates and slowing the economy while devaluing the dollar. This impacts average Americans, whose taxes will go increasingly towards repaying the debt and less towards programs we need, like Social Security and Medicare. With the Social Security trust fund currently slated to fall short of funds in 2034, this is unacceptable. We need to quit while we’re ahead and acknowledge the debt crisis. Balancing the budget does not need to be a partisan issue and I urge my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to support a balanced budget amendment to address these concerns.
My support for a balanced budget amendment came soon after I came to Congress in 1987. It didn't take me long to realize that there is an infinite capacity in Washington, DC to kick the can down the road. The problem today is that can is getting pretty heavy to kick, and it's going to land on the next generation with full force—the current debt is almost $20 trillion, and unless action is taken, it will continue to spiral out of control. It’s time to make the tough decisions to stop our ever-expanding debt. A balanced budget amendment is the most effective way to do that.
In 1995, with my support, the House passed a balanced budget amendment. It then failed by one vote in the Senate. Had that become the law of the land, today we would be a lot closer to paying down the last of the debt. Instead we have a nearly $20 trillion debt burden and little capacity to remedy it.
In 2011, I bucked my Democratic leadership, and a powerful coalition of more than 270 interest groups to vote yes on a balanced budget amendment. I was the lead Democratic sponsor and worked closely with Chairman Goodlatte for months to secure broad support for the amendment. Unfortunately, my leadership and the special interest groups launched a massive campaign to oppose the bill. In the end only 25 Democrats supported the amendment and it failed to garner the necessary two-thirds votes to pass. I believe we can ultimately be successful, but it will take courage and work on both sides of the aisle.
While I am the lead and only Democrat on Chairman Goodlatte’s H.J. Res. 2, I have also introduced my own resolution, H.J.Res. 109. Unlike H.J.Res. 2, my proposal would require that any significant military action that is not a congressionally declared war, like Afghanistan or Iraq, be included in the budget. This would force each year's budget to be honestly calculated and a president to think twice before sending our men and women to war without the required congressional approval.
Additionally, my legislation protects Social Security and Medicare from being raided in order to pay for other government spending. We need to ensure these programs are not subject to arbitrary cuts because of other annual federal budgeting decisions. Social Security is not a significant driver of our deficits. Asking seniors who paid FICA taxes for decades to do more with less is wrong.
My resolution addresses another issue. H.J. Res. 2 provides two exemptions to the balanced budget requirement. By a three-fifths vote, Congress can waive the requirements for any reason. A simple majority can waive the requirements because of a military conflict. Either of these exemptions could necessitate an increase in the debt limit. Since H.J. Res. 2 requires a separate three-fifths vote to raise the debt limit, it is conceivable that members could approve an unbalanced budget, and then refuse to increase the debt limit. Such hostage taking is not theoretical, which is why my legislation requires a mandatory increase in the debt limit should both Houses approve increased outlays over receipts. The majority has used the debt limit as leverage to extract concessions, an irresponsible practice.
Some of my Democratic colleagues are opposed to a balanced budget amendment because it forces Congress to make tough decisions that could include spending cuts to programs that are important to them, and to me. I urge them to not lose sight of the fact that passing a balanced budget amendment needs support from Republicans and Democrats. Had the 1995 balanced budget amendment passed the Senate and been ratified by three-fourths of the states, every deficit-laden budget over the past 22 years would have needed a three-fifths vote to be approved. If we had passed a balanced budget amendment in 1995, we would not be approaching a $20 trillion debt today, and Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would not be under attack.
While I believe H.J.Res 109 is a better approach, I support Chairman Goodlatte’s resolution because it has the best chance of passage. I don’t believe we can afford to wait any longer to balance the budget. A balanced budget can be accomplished but it will take real compromise from both parties.
Instead of tackling the most pressing problems that our country is dealing with, we spend our time in Washington lurching from budget crisis to budget crisis while counties and cities across the United States are left without the resources they need to plan for critical road and bridge construction and repair projects and critical social and nutritional programs are underfunded. I urge my colleagues to take responsibility for the national debt and pass a balanced budget amendment.
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