Tester co-sponsors balanced budget amendment

by Alex Ross

As President Barack Obama went public with his final federal budget, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont ., joined four other lawmakers to call for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S Constitution.

“We can’t keep swiping the credit card of the next generation,” Tester said, after announcing his support for the measure.

Three other Democratic senators from conservative leaning states, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are also pushing for the amendment that would prohibit the government from spending more money in a given year than it takes in in tax revenue.

Tester said the budget could be balanced without endangering Social Security or Medicare.

In a press call Wednesday, Tester said Montana has a balanced budget amendment in its constitution since 1972 and as a result is rated one of the most fiscally prudent states in the nation.

The National Council of State Legislatures said that 48 other states have some form of a balanced budget amendment in their state constitutions. Similar proposals have been brought before Congress but failed to pass on numerous occasions.

Such an amendment would have to be passed by both houses of Congress in the form of a joint resolution, before being sent to the states where it would need to be ratified by 38 of the 50 state legislatures to become a constitutional amendment.

Tester said that stands in contrast to the federal government, where the national debt is approaching $19 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office projects the U.S. will run a budget deficit this year that is $105 billion more than last year. Tester said that 2016 is the first year since 2009 that the deficit has increased.

“Apparently, a majority of the folks in Congress don’t understand the meaning of fiscal responsibility,” Tester said.

The omnibus spending bill that passed Congress in December – which Tester voted against – was another illustration, he said of Congress’ lack of fiscal responsibility, he said. Tester said that while he supported some of the programs in the spending package, it would have “saddled our kids and grandkids with $800 billion in additional debt.”

If approved, the amendment would mandate that Congress either raise taxes or offset spending cuts in other areas.

Tester said that while he agrees there are situations such as emergencies or a severe economic downturn when spending increases are needed, he said that those investments can be funded without increasing the debt through spending reductions and paring back duplicative programs in the budget.

A spokesperson for Tester said the bill has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, however no hearing for it has yet been scheduled. He said Tester will continue trying to persuade his colleagues of the importance of such an amendment.

Regarding the president’s $4.1 trillion budget for 2017 that was unveiled Tuesday, Tester said he would take a wait-and-see approach.

“I’ll be going through it page by page to ensure it reflects Montana priorities,” Tester said. “And then it’s the job of Congress – specifically the Appropriations Committee, which I sit on – to put its fingerprints on it.”