With little notice, our national debt recently surged to a historic record – an eye-popping 20 trillion dollars. Yet chances are few Americans noticed. Most of us went about our business, unaware of this unprecedented economic time bomb that has put our children’s future, and their children’s future, at greater risk. It needs to be a wake-up call for Americans.
And the wake-up message is this: by exceeding the previous statutory debt limit and for the first time surpassing an unfathomable $20,000,000,000,000 (trillion). It’s the most alarming sign yet that our federal government is letting spending and debt put our ability to grow the economy at risk. As we’ve so often seen around the world, countries with the highest levels of government debt, in proportion to their economic output, struggle with weak growth and stagnant wages.
We simply cannot allow that to happen here, watching our national debt continue to grow while it strangles America’s economic growth and productivity, increases interest rates and the cost of interest payments, gobbles up resources we need for essential public services and infrastructure, all while it pushes us closer and closer to a fiscal crisis. Our growing debt also makes it increasingly difficult to respond to unforeseen events, such as recessions and natural disasters. Former chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, has even warned us: “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.”
How is it that the federal government, unlike most other states and cities, any private business or – for that matter – any law-abiding citizen can get away with spending far, far more money than it takes in? That’s because our U.S. Constitution, for all its virtues, fails to put any restrictions on what the government spends. It’s like designing a high-speed sports car, but failing to install any brakes.
That’s not the way it works in the real world, that is to say anywhere beyond Capitol Hill. In Ohio, as in most other states, we have a balanced budget requirement in our constitution, a mandated fiscal restraint that has served us quite well through good times and bad. But any hope that the federal government will someday address the nation’s disastrous debt burden or enact a requirement similar to the states’ is becoming less and less likely by the day.
It’s doubly sad to see this happen, because I know Washington can do it. It’s been done before – and I was there. When I served as chairman of the House Budget Committee in the 1990s, members of our committee worked to reform programs and control the nation’s spending. Ultimately, our across-the-aisle approach worked, and with a Democratic President and a Republican Congress we balanced the nation’s books for the first time since 1969. Sadly, they haven’t been balanced for many years since, proving that we desperately need that same type of bipartisanship and commitment in 2017.
Today, as Washington fails to lead toward balancing the federal budget, states and their governors have a way to take control of the problem themselves. The U.S. Constitution offers an opportunity for grassroots action, empowering the states to trigger needed change. Through this procedure, if 34 states call for a convention to pass an amendment to require a balanced federal budget, and that amendment is then approved by 38 states, we can finally bring fiscal accountability to the federal level. This effort seemed to be on the tipping point of triggering change after 30 states had passed resolutions in support of a convention. But since that time, this approach has lost some momentum with New Mexico, Nevada and Maryland rescinding their support of the only discipline that will work – based on reasoning straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Admittedly this state-initiated approach sets a high bar, and for good reason. But today a total of 27 states are on board, with just seven more states needed to call a convention and trigger the fiscal responsibility our federal government so desperately needs.
Kasichs administration has spent months laying the groundwork for the effort. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in Forbes. It was provided to The News from Kasich’s office.