Congress has pressing need for a pair of safety scissors

Published 8:50 am Monday, June 14, 2010

Conventional wisdom tells us that a toddler running with sharp scissors is ill-advised. The reason is simple enough. Improperly handled, sharp scissors pose a danger to the toddler and others. It is with this danger in mind that moms across the country have admonished their little ones against the practice and have taken the step of replacing sharpened scissors with the plastic safety variety.

In the sausage-making factory that is Congress, the spending power, unleashed from the constraints of the doctrine of limited government, is the equivalent of sharp scissors in the hands of a racing toddler. Confronted by a host of special interests and the opportunity to leverage votes with their constituents, the fiscal discipline of Congress rivals the motor skills of a baby trying to run before he can walk. And yet, into Congress’ unstable hands we have ceded a dangerous tool in the form of virtually unfettered authority to spend.

The tally of the resulting congressional shopping spree borders on incomprehensible. The United States’ anticipated tax revenues this year are $2.2 trillion — by all accounts a decent take. The United States’ budget this year is $3.8 trillion, though. In other words, our country is living 42 percent beyond its means and is on pace for a second straight record deficit. This deficit will add to an already bloated national debt which currently rests just south of $13 trillion. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that over the next 10 years, the national debt will increase by at least $10 trillion to approximately $23 trillion. Interest payments on that debt alone will reach $900 billion annually. If these staggering numbers weren’t bad enough, Moody’s has estimated that as early as 2013, the United States may lose its AAA credit rating, making it harder and more expensive for our country to borrow.

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To place our budgetary predicament on a more human scale, imagine for a moment that you made $30,000 a year, but were spending $43,000 a year. Imagine that you were carrying in the ballpark of $175,000 in credit card debt and that over the next 10 years that debt would increase to approximately $313,000. Imagine that you would be required to spend almost $13,000 of your annual salary on interest payments, alone, and that to compound problems, your creditors were threatening to raise your interest rates.

Sound bleak? No one in his right mind would describe an individual in this situation as being either financially responsible or viable. And yet, this is the precise state of the U.S. economy.

The reality is that economics and politics are like oil and water — they simply don’t mix. Economists recognize the scarcity of resources, while most politicians refuse to do so, opting instead to engage in over-the-top spending and simply passing the bill to the next generation. This long-used, but increasingly abused, practice is both irresponsible and immoral. It threatens the future prosperity and freedom of our nation.

If we are to restore fiscal sanity to our nation and ensure the long-term sustainability of the U.S. economy, it will be incumbent upon the people to constrain the federal government’s spending power. Addressing the economic problems facing our country isn’t about affixing blame. It’s about placing prudence over partisanship, practical reality over politics. Limiting congressional spending with a well-crafted balanced budget amendment, which caps marginal tax rates, provides an exception for formal declarations of war and requires a percentage of each year’s budget to be used to pay down the national debt, would be tantamount to handing a toddler a pair of safety scissors. Passage of such an amendment would permit Congress to accomplish its constitutional role, while winnowing the threat to our economy. It would be consistent with what is required in the state of Mississippi and what normal folks do every month in budgeting for our own families.

A balanced budget amendment is something all Mississippians, and truly, all Americans, should be able to get behind — if not out of want, then out of necessity. In the meantime, I’d offer this old pearl of wisdom to the current administration: The first step of getting out of a hole is to stop digging.

Russell Latino III practices law in the Jackson area. Write to him at 300 Concourse Blvd. Suite 200, Ridgeland, MS 39157 or e-mail