Cut, Cap, Balance

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The U.S. debt is now above its current limit of $14.3 trillion, a figure so large that it is nearly impossible for the average American to comprehend.

Under the budget proposed by President Obama for 2012, the debt would rise to $15.7 trillion in 2021. The annual interest alone would be about $700 billion, and that would only increase with inflation. President Obama’s proposed budget was so excessive and fiscally irresponsible that it was voted down in the Senate 97-0.

In spite of these facts, President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress still want to increase the national debt limit without making meaningful spending cuts or reforms. This plan, a so-called "clean" increase in the debt limit, recently failed a House vote of 318-97. Every Republican and 82 Democrats voted against.

There is a bipartisan consensus that increasing the debt limit requires major spending cuts and budget reforms. Every day, solving our debt problem becomes more challenging—and the range of options to deal with it becomes more limited and less appealing. The problem is a cancer and it’s growing.

Throughout American history, Congress has never once failed to increase the debt limit. This makes having a debt limit functionally useless.

Moments that require Congress to act are rare, and this spending crisis—caused by irresponsible presidents and Congresses—is a crisis we can’t let go to waste.
This opportunity to act boldly, given the fragility of our current economic recovery, deep concerns about job creation, persistently high unemployment, and public dissatisfaction with massive government spending, can be a game-changer for America’s future.

Many conservatives have expressed their opinions about what kind of debt-limit deal would earn their support. Our organizations—Let Freedom Ring, the Club for Growth, and Pass the Balanced Budget Amendment—have joined with other conservative organizations and the Republican Study Committee to demand a pledge from every current member of Congress and candidate for federal office.

The plan is simple: cut, cap, balance.

First, we must demand that spending is cut. We should make discretionary and mandatory spending reductions that would cut the deficit in half next year. Last year’s deficit was $1.6 trillion, the largest in history. We must cut our deficits now, not over 10 years.

Second, we must demand enforceable statutory caps to return federal spending to 18% of gross domestic product, where it has been for most of the past 60 years. Federal spending is now nearly 25% of GDP, which is unsustainable. If the spending cap is breached, it must trigger automatic spending reductions.

Republicans in the Bush years and Democrats in the Obama years have proven that we cannot trust them when it comes to spending.

Third, we must insist on passage of a balanced budget amendment before that debt-limit vote occurs. The amendment drafted by Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) is a good example to follow. It requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress to increase taxes and a three-fifths vote in both houses to raise the debt limit, and it requires the president to submit a balanced budget to Congress each fiscal year.

An amendment to the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both houses, plus the ratification of three-fourths of the states. Ratification will take time, but Congress must act first, and it can do so before the latest debt-ceiling "deadline" of Aug. 2. The states have annual or biennial balanced budget requirements and the federal government must too.

The cut provision makes an immediate impact in next year’s deficit. The cap provision sets a new spending limit that Congress cannot violate without triggering automatic cuts. The balance provision will set us on a course to balance our budget every year in the future once it is ratified.

Individually, any of these three steps would be a major stride toward saving America from fiscal ruin. Taken together, they prevent irresponsible presidents and legislators from finding new ways to spend money that we don’t have for things we don’t need.

The current Congress has a chance to do right by the next generation. Now more than ever, we need politicians who will risk their political careers with courage, to do what must be done.

Many candidates ran last year on a promise to care more about the next generation than the next election. Now they have a chance to prove it.

Mr. Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring USA. Mr. Chocola, a former congressman from Indiana, is president of the Club for Growth. Mr. Blackwell, a former secretary of state of Ohio, is president of Pass the BBA.