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How Can Congress Balance the Budget?

Today, the House will vote on a proposal that would suspend the debt ceiling until May 19, buying a bit more time for the overarching budget debate. This puts off the difficult decisions that are needed to get the country’s fiscal situation in order. Heritage’s vice president for domestic and economic policy, Derrick Morgan, wrote recently:

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” That’s why Congress should not raise the debt ceiling unless it includes immediate reforms today that put us on a sure path to balance, keep us in balance over time, provide for the common defense—and do not raise taxes.

Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) took up an idea promoted by a coalition of conservative organizations including our sister organization, Heritage Action for America.

They pledged to produce a path to balance—a balanced budget in 10 years.

In a Politico op-ed January 15, Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham joined Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in leading the call for Congress to balance the budget—and use the debt ceiling negotiations to do it.

“While we as fiscal, social and foreign policy conservatives have differing priorities, we can certainly find immediate savings in the discretionary budget,” they wrote. “Programs that benefit only a few—agriculture subsidies, green energy handouts, Planned Parenthood, etc.—have at least the appearance of cronyism and special interest handouts.”

The conservative leaders called for a plan that would balance the budget in 10 years, explaining:

Ten years is not a random horizon, but the traditional congressional budget window. Nor is this demand the result of mere whimsy—it is a moral obligation. No American should have to tell an 8-year-old child that we cannot get our nation’s house in order by the time she goes to college. There are many ways to get to a balanced budget and both Democrats and Republicans have an obligation to explain what path they will choose.

Following their call, 41 leaders of conservative organizations signed a memo urging Congress to produce a 10-year path to balance. Now, Boehner has taken up that call.

Of course, before you can have a balanced budget, you have to have a budget. Boehner and his Republican colleagues in the House have also put the Senate on notice: It’s time to produce a budget.

The Senate has failed to pass a budget for the past three years. The bill the House will vote on today includes a provision that would withhold pay for Members from either chamber if it fails to pass a budget.

It’s good to hear Members of Congress getting serious about financial responsibility. After the fiscal cliff deal, however, any “deal” cannot just promise budget reforms will happen in the future—it must include those reforms. As Heritage’s Emily Goff said yesterday:

[C]onservatives should not capitulate again on tax hikes. In the imminent debt limit debate, they should remind the country that we have a spending problem and communicate concrete ways to reduce federal spending. They can start with bipartisan reforms to Medicare and Social Security and thus lay the groundwork for bolder entitlement program reforms in the future.

Now let’s see these plans for a balanced budget—because the details are important. The needed spending cuts and entitlement reforms will have to become concrete realities.

To see Heritage’s plan that balances the budget in 10 years, check out Saving the American Dream.

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