COLUMBUS — Republican John Kasich is not giving up on his goal of a federal balanced budget amendment, a tool the Ohio governor says is ever more important as the U.S. national debt ticks toward $20 trillion.
“The issue is not a partisan issue,” Kasich told The Associated Press in an interview. “It’s about economic growth and our children’s and our grandchildren’s future.”
As a presidential contender last year, Kasich pledged he would balance the federal budget within eight years while cutting taxes and spending more on the military. To make it work, the budget-balancing former congressman had proposed limiting the federal role in education, transportation, job training and Medicaid — areas he would have turned over in large part to the states.
Kasich, 64, has not let his failed White House ambitions interfere with his passion on the issue. He played a key role last month in Wyoming becoming the 29th state to request an Article V constitutional convention aimed at amending a balanced budget amendment into the U.S. Constitution.
His sights are now set on Idaho, Arizona, Kentucky, South Carolina and Wisconsin — which he views as the best chances of reaching the 34 states necessary to make the convention a reality.
Kasich says he’s in a race with time. Not only is the growing debt a “fiscal time bomb” in Kasich’s view, but some states are rethinking their support, he said — including most recently New Mexico, who recently rescinded its convention request and took the total number back to 28. Since March 1, convention applications have been blocked or defeated in at least nine states.
“You can’t go on racking up this debt. It’s really, really hard to deal with,” Kasich said. “A balanced budget amendment forces Congress to make difficult decisions and it provides an excuse to members when they face pressure to spend. There’s got to be a willingness from both parties — particularly on the Republican side, now that they control everything.”
Among opponents fighting a balanced budget convention are groups as politically different as the John Birch Society and the League of Women Voters.
Lloyd Leonard, the league’s senior director advocacy, said a constitutional convention risks opening debate on abortion, guns, term limits, freedom of religion and even the existence of the federal government itself.
He said he’s surprised Kasich would admit to a balanced budget amendment’s role in providing political cover in Washington.
“I congratulate him on being so honest as to say this is a way to protect politicians,” Leonard said. His group believes a balanced budget amendment would have prevented the federal government from actions like the Recession-era stimulus package and auto industry rescue that helped states like Ohio through difficult economic times.
The John Birch Society calls a constitutional convention “a potentially disastrous event.”
“We don’t think that it’s possible to be sure it could be limited to one issue,” said Larry Greenley, the society’s director of missions. “We think it’s just a bad time to unleash something like that.”
Kasich joins those who reject the argument. He says a convention can be limited to the balanced budget issue, one which has now gained support in both Republican states like Ohio and Democratic ones like Maryland. Joining him in supporting the idea is the BBA Task Force and the American Legislative Exchange Council. A related Convention of States movement is also burgeoning around the country.
“When the national debt goes up, economic opportunity goes down. And when the debt goes down, opportunity improves,” Kasich said, distilling his position to its essence.
That notion is far from universally accepted, even as Republican President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are debating a federal budget that endorses deficits adding almost $10 trillion to the national debt over the coming decade.
The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, based in Washington, says exact balance of a federal budget is less important than keeping debt from growing faster than the economy. The center estimates balancing the budget within 10 years would require more than $6 trillion in program cuts or revenue increases.
Kasich governs a state whose budget must balance. He says it hasn’t been “chop, chop, chop,” but a balancing act of reining in spending — such as by privatizing one, not all, state prisons and getting the prisons out of the farming business.
His critics staunchly disagree with Kasich that his budgets haven’t taken a toll in areas — particularly for local governments and schools. Ohio teachers rallied recently against proposed education cuts.
But Kasich says he’s taken the approach of remaining consistent and not playing favorites.
“You don’t make any friends. That’s why it’s so hard,” he said. “Because the people that come to see them act like they’re their friends, but these are temporary friendships. When you get into these jobs, you have to realize you have a job to do.”