OPINION: Don’t use amendment to dodge debt-ceiling action

Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

One of the best ways to guarantee that there will not be a balanced budget or a fiscally responsible initiative is to condition action on a debt ceiling increase on passage of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

This approach is favored by some conservatives who take the position that they will not vote to increase the debt ceiling unless such a constitutional amendment is passed. This is a road best not traveled if we want to come to some sort of real action on our nation’s impending fiscal crisis. “Lord save us from the well intentioned and those who are trying to score political points or raise money,” should be the response to this bit of “conservative” misdirection.


A constitutional amendment takes a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate to pass. This must then be followed by ratification by 37 states.

This is a hurdle that is rarely jumped. In fact, it has not happened in this century and only occurred a few times in the last century.

It takes years, if not decades, to accomplish such a feat.

Does anyone really believe this is a viable option when the threats we face from excessive spending, deficits and debts mount on a yearly basis at astronomical rates? Do we have time for this type of an exercise, which is heavily weighted towards public relations, not progress? The answer is, of course, “no.”

We are running up debt at a rate of $1.4 trillion a year. In five years, long before any constitutional amendment would take effect (assuming it would pass), we will have doubled our debt and be essentially bankrupt.

We do not have the time to do messaging politics.

Conservatives should not tolerate those who would condition their willingness to make the tough, important votes that will address our fiscal chaos on unrealistic and impractical ideas that will have no impact on the problem. They will not come to pass in time to stop the government from spending us into oblivion.

It is not uncommon for representatives and senators to propose amendments to controversial legislation that have no viability. This tactic gives them the excuse to avoid the difficult votes that might actually have an impact on a critical issue. This approach is the political equivalent of “hiding in the corners.”

The debt ceiling is an opportunity for real action. It can be used to force immediate action to adjust the nation’s present course, which is headed towards fiscal disaster.

It is important that political gamesmanship not be used to avoid such votes, even if such games may be cloaked in conservative cloth.

This conditioning of a constitutional amendment vote shuns the obligation of conservatives to participate in the process and put for- ward doable and real solutions that can pass and that address the federal debt. Acts of gamesmanship, whose purpose is to posture, should not be tolerated.

What we need now from the Congress and the White House is some action.

We need a little statesmanship, leadership and fortitude. Traditionally, this type of results-oriented effort has been driven by conservatives. It is discouraging to see efforts that assure that no action will occur becoming the “call to action” for conservatives.

“Hiding in the corners” is hardly an effective or appropriate response to the significant and immediate problem our nation faces of too much spending and too much debt.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three- term senator from new hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget committee and also as ranking member of the Senate appropriations Foreign operations subcommittee.