Sen. Mike Lee: Constitutional Amendment Should Cap Spending at 18% of GDP

By Terence P. Jeffrey | November 18, 2011 | 12:44pm EST

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( - Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah—author of "The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment Is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government"--says Congress should pass and the states should ratify an amendment that limits federal spending to 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product and requires two-thirds votes in both the House and Senate to increase taxes or the legal limit on the federal debt.

“I would like to see Congress pass and the states ratify a constitutional amendment along the order of the one I’ve introduced in the Senate, the Hatch-Lee balanced budget amendment proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 10,” Lee told in an “Online With Terry Jeffrey” interview.

“What it says in essence is Congress may not spend more than it takes in, or raise the debt limit, or spend more than 18% of GDP, or raise taxes, without a supermajority vote in Congress,” said Lee.

View OTJ interview with Sen. Lee here:

Federal spending as a percentage of GDP has grown dramatically since President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and began his "New Deal," according to figures published by the White House Office of Management and Budget. In 1932, federal spending equaled 6.9 percent of GDP. In 1941, the year Japan attacked Pearl Harbor it was 12.0 percent. It jumped to above 40 percent GDP in 1943, 1944 and 1945, during the height of World War II, but dropped back to 24.8 percent in 1946 and then to 14.8 percent in 1947.

As recently as 2007, federal spending was at 19.6 percent of GDP. In 2009, it hit 25 percent for the first time since Japan and Germany defeated in 1945. In fiscal 2011, it was 25.3 percent, another post-World War II record.

Lee says that members of Congress, by nature, like to spend the public’s money and have incentives to do so—a phenomenon that would be curbed by a balanced budget amendment of the type he has proposed.

“I explain in 'The Freedom Agenda' that members of Congress tend to be rewarded when they spend more and they tend to be criticized and punished when they want to cut,” he said.

“Members of Congress also by their nature are gregarious people, they’re pleasers,” he said. “They want to please people. They want to make constituents happy. They want to leave a lasting legacy. I think, if push came to shove, most members of Congress when asked the question would admit that they even like having large federal buildings named after them.”

Lee said he believes it would be a mistake for Republicans to adopt a version of the balanced budget amendment that lacks provisions requiring supermajorities to increase taxes and capping spending as a percentage of GDP.

“All 47 members of the Republican caucus in the Senate are behind a single proposal,” said Lee. “And I’ll tell you we could not have gotten that type of unanimity within the Republican caucus in the Senate without those provisions--without requiring a supermajority to raise taxes and without a percentage-of-GDP cap. So, I think it would be unwise, given that unanimous support, that we’ve got there for us to back away from those.  We don’t want to negotiate against ourselves.”

When asked if a balanced budget amendment lacking the spending cap and supermajority requirement would lose Republican votes in the Senate, Lee said he believed it would.

“I think that’s right,” he said. “I’m quite confident that we could not have gotten all 47 Republicans behind it if we had not had either of those provisions in there.  So I think that’s treacherous if we start doing something like that.”

Despite Lee’s reservations, the Republican-controlled House was planning to vote on Friday on a balanced budget amendment that does not requires a supermajority to increase taxes and that permits unlimited federal spending.

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