Former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker penned a recent column on getting the country’s finances in order amid ballooning national debt that will see the U.S. spend more on interest payments than it does on defense in the coming years.
The time has come to enact a fiscal responsibility constitutional amendment that will force our federal elected officials to make tough choices regarding mandatory spending, tax preferences and other key structural challenges sooner rather than later.
Walker served as Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008, was one of two public trustees for Social Security and Medicare, and also has written three books on retirement security and returning the country to fiscal responsibility.
Walker said in his Washington Times column, “Putting America’s finances in order,” that it is abundantly clear that neither of the two major U.S. parties is fiscally responsible. Republicans focus primarily on tax cuts, while Democrats focus on spending — and neither party focuses on the bottom line or long term, Walker says.
For example, in the past year, legislative changes on both the tax and spending side of the ledger resulted in more than doubling the deficit for fiscal 2019.
Total debt subject to the debt ceiling limit is about $22 trillion today and growing versus $5.7 trillion at the end of fiscal 2000 and declining. Trillion-dollar annual deficits are projected to return in fiscal 2020. Shockingly, the Congressional Budge Office (CBO) projects the federal government will spend more on interest than national defense within five years and total interest costs will reach almost $1 trillion within 10 years. And what do we get for interest? Nothing.
It has become clear that most federal elected officials cannot be relied upon to voluntarily put our finances in order. Therefore, the time has come to enact a fiscal responsibility constitutional amendment that will force our federal elected officials to make tough choices regarding mandatory spending, tax preferences and other key structural challenges sooner rather than later.
Our nation’s Founders knew that federal elected officials might become so myopic and self-focused that the states would need to assert their power to protect “We the People.” Specifically, Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides a means for two-thirds of the states to call for a constitutional convention to consider one or more amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
I am one of many former senior-level federal public officials supporting an effort to call for a convention of states to focus solely on a needed fiscal responsibility amendment. This effort is being spearheaded by the Center for State-led National Debt solutions. Twenty-eight of the needed 34 states have already passed related resolutions. You can find out more about which states have passed the resolution and which ones remain at www.csnds.org.
Some fear that a state-led constitutional convention might spin out of control. This can be prevented by restricting the resolution to a single issue and by imposing civil and potentially criminal penalties on any delegates that go beyond the mandate for the convention. Furthermore, 38 states would be required to ratify any proposed constitutional amendment for it to become effective. These are adequate protections to prevent a “runaway” convention from making dramatic and unacceptable changes to the greatest governing document in the history of mankind — the U.S. Constitution.
The 17th Amendment (direct election of U.S. senators) demonstrated that Congress is likely to use the traditional approach to achieve a constitutional amendment if the threat of a state-led convention appears imminent.
Under that approach, two-thirds of the Senate and House pass a proposed amendment that must be ratified by three-quarters of the states. All 27 of our current amendments have followed this course and this approach is fine. However, we need to continue to fight for a state-led convention to make sure that the job gets done.
The longer we wait to put our nation’s finances in order the greater the degree of changes that will be needed and the less transition time that will be available to phase in those changes. In addition, the longer we wait to act the greater the risk of the greatest fiscal crisis in history. Such a crisis would adversely affect every American to differing degrees and would be felt around the world. Let’s work together to defuse our ticking debt bomb sooner versus later.