A Simple Balanced Budget Amendment

Two-term Congressman Tom McClintock (R, CA) and a member of the House Budget Committee has introduced  Instead of complex resolutions attempting to limit government spending or initiate taxation reform requiring complex definitions of fiscal years, outlays, expenditures, revenues, emergencies, and triggers, among other terms, this amendment is classic in its 27-word simplicity and force: a simple Balanced Budget Amendment HJR 84 for which he now seeks support.

"The United States government may not increase its debt except for a specific purpose by law adopted by three-fourths of the membership of both Houses of Congress."

It relies on the simple notion that a government strictly limited in its power to borrow will, by necessity, have to deal responsibly with future taxation and spending decisions.  In his remarks to the House (see video here), Mr. McClintock makes clear that his proposed super-majority:

"...trusts that three-fourths of Congress will be able to recognize a genuine emergency when it sees one and that one-fourth of Congress will be strong enough to resist borrowing for light or transient reasons.  The experience of the states has warned us that a 2/3 vote is insufficient to protect against profligacy."

McClintock cites a 1798 letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor as long-held support for a balanced budget amendment:

"I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government to the genuine principles of its Constitution; I mean an additional article, taking from the federal government the power of borrowing." 

The McClintock resolution calls for a ten-year period following ratification before implementation to "give the government time to put its affairs in order and thereafter naturally require future Congresses to maintain both a balanced budget and a prudent reserve to accommodate fluctuations of revenues and routine contingencies."

For those not familiar with Congressman McClintock, he is well-known in California as a consistent advocate of conservative principles -- even running as a conservative opposing Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor in 2003 following the recall of Democrat Gray Davis.  His views on current issues can be seen in a recent interview conducted by Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

This clarity of thinking is a welcome addition to Congress.  Mr. McClintock should have a long career, as Democratic opposition within his district has essentially crumbled.