Weekly Column

The last time the Senate passed a budget resolution was on April 29, 2009, or nearly 1,400 days ago. Think about it: the last time the Senate passed a budget, the iPad didn't even exist.

Nebraskans understand that the only way to get our fiscal house in order is to get government spending under control. A budget is essential when you're running a family or business, it's even more essential when you're running the federal government.

Since the Senate's last budget, nearly $6 trillion has been added to the national debt, and we have had four straight years with deficits of $1 trillion or more. The lack of a spending blueprint has enabled more wasteful spending and a massive growth of the federal government.

While I am pleased that Congress reached a bipartisan agreement toward passing a budget, I was disappointed that the Senate did not adopt amendments to the “No Budget, No Pay Act” to immediately start reducing our out-of-control government spending. I had initially planned to support the “No Budget, No Pay Act” because I agree with the basic idea that unless members of Congress do their job and pass a budget, we don't deserve to get paid. Ultimately, though, a number of critical amendments, which I supported to immediately rein in spending, failed and the resulting lack of cuts made it difficult for me to support the final measure.

Nonetheless, I'm pleased to see that so many of my Democrat colleagues, including the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Patty Murray (W.A.), and the third ranking Senate Democrat, Senator Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), have publicly indicated a willingness to pass a budget.

To that end, I also support an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget. A Balanced Budget Amendment is the only way Congress and the president will finally set critical national priorities and fund them appropriately. Families across Nebraska have been sitting around their kitchen tables and making hard decisions; it's time for Washington to do the same.

A Balanced Budget Amendment will force the federal government to reduce the deficit, enact responsible spending policies, protect the money of hardworking taxpayers, and generate real economic growth.

Since the 1930s, balanced budget amendments have been introduced in Congress, and in 1997, the Balanced Budget Amendment failed by just one vote in the United States Senate. It is important to note, however, that Congress cannot amend the Constitution. Congress can only propose an amendment for the states to consider ratifying. According to a CNN poll, three-quarters of Americans favor a Balanced Budget Amendment. And as you know, Nebraska and 48 other states are required to balance their spending with their receipts.

If the act of balancing budgets can be accomplished by 49 states, surely the federal government can achieve the same sensible accounting practices. And historically, the United States has achieved a balanced budget – as recently as 2001. It can be done, it just requires the political will to set priorities.

The idea of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget is hardly a new concept. Indeed, in 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter, “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; I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.”

I agree with Jefferson, but our nation's fiscal crisis demands attention before another 200 years pass, or even another 1,400 days. I pledge to do my part to pass a budget that reins in spending, and I will support efforts that constitutionally require Congress to balance the federal government's accounting books. Failure to do so will leave a legacy of debt and decline for our children and grandchildren; the American people deserve better.

Thank you for taking part in our democratic process, and I'll visit with you again next week.

Deb Fischer

United States Senator