Imagine a person who makes $46,000 per year carrying $300,000 in debt. Interest payments alone are $10,000. Worst of all, that person continues to spend more than they bring in each year. Sooner or later, the credit runs out. If that person was a family member or friend, we would have an intervention. Unfortunately, the individual in question happens to be the federal government.
Clearly, Washington-based politicians cannot fix the looming federal debt crisis. Therefore, the states must lead. It is time for state lawmakers to hold an intervention to relieve the federal government of its debt-addiction.
Thankfully, our Founders gave us the tools to bypass Congress and go directly to the states. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, two-thirds of the states can approve resolutions to apply for a convention. There, delegates will debate, draft and propose an amendment which would then be sent back to the states where three-fourths must vote to ratify the language for it to be added to our Constitution.
President Ronald Reagan championed the idea in the 1980s but fell two states short at 32 of the 34 states required to call a convention to propose a Balanced Budget Amendment. By 2012, there were only 12 states left. Today, there are 28 states on record calling for a convention to bring up the sole subject of a Balanced Budget Amendment.
During the Reagan administration, Attorney General Ed Meese commissioned a report from the U.S. Department of Justice which lays out how a single-issue convention can be held. This is the path we have used to get to 28 states and will use to get to 34 states.
Six states are needed to get to the two-thirds threshold required by the Constitution. Remarkably, there are a number of legitimate opportunities within the remaining states, including Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina and Virginia. Republicans control the state legislatures in four of these six states. One is split with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats the House. Democrats hold a slim majority in that sixth state. This means getting these states to act is very doable during the next two years.
We just have to get it on the radar with lawmakers. Once we do, it sells itself. All across America, people have to balance their own budgets — at home and at work. In 49 of our 50 states, there are constitutional requirements for balanced budgets. Why not Washington?
The public understands that members of both political parties have failed to fix the problem in Washington, D.C. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the national debt nearly doubled from $5.5 trillion to $10 trillion. During the presidency of Barack Obama, the national debt nearly doubled from $10 trillion to $19.5 trillion. Today, the federal debt is more than $23 trillion. And by 2025, it will likely exceed $30 trillion.
Given the above evidence, it is clear neither political party is free of blame when it comes to our indebtedness. And failure to rein in the roughly $1.2 trillion our government is projected to borrow each year over the next decade will force drastic budget cuts due to the exploding size of our interest payments. Everything from defense to Social Security will be impacted in a serious way.
Earlier this year, I spoke with a respected lawmaker in Idaho who had legitimate concerns about amending the Constitution. He stated the current situation well, however, when he noted the greater threat to our republic is insolvency.
Data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows that — if the federal government continues to borrow more than $1 trillion each year and interest rates rise to 3.7 percent — our true national debt will hit $30 trillion in about five years.
By then, interest payments on the debt will exceed $1 trillion (the size of the entire federal debt in 1981). With federal revenues projected to be $4.6 trillion in 2025, interest payments will be the second-largest expenditure — a quarter of all revenues.
Examining the numbers can be overwhelming. The solution, however, is simple.
Just like we would with a friend or family member who was spending more money than they had, we have to intervene and get them to stop the excess spending. Once we do, we can get the federal government back on the road to fiscal health.
But like a real-life scenario, it is hard to expect those driving the deficits and debt to address the issue. In this case, the states must intervene and write the fiscal rules by which Congress must live going forward. They not only have the ability to do it, but they also have a responsibility to do it.
The time to act is now — before it’s too late.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @ScottWalker.
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