The Post's near-frantic reaction to California Gov. Jerry Brown's recent conversion to a balanced federal budget is welcome in one way. It demonstrates that the idea of a constitutionally required balanced budget has gained considerable momentum, a development that will cheer the more than four out of five Americans who now support this reform.
Let us look more calmly at the situation. In the years between World War II and 1961, the federal budget was in deficit seven times and in surplus the other seven, with the net result being an approximate balance. During this period, unemployment and inflation were low. Since 1961, we have balanced the federal budget only once, and the deficits of recent years have been simply astronomical. During this period, we have tended to experience either high unemployment or high inflation, and often both together. Budget deficits have not produced either consistently low unemployment or low inflation.
The measure of our current problem is reflected by the fact that a $30 billion deficit in the late stages of a business recovery is being touted as a victory of fiscal discipline.
I did not come to the Senate two years ago prepared to introduce a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.But experience and observation have taught me that legislative budget reductions and private restraint simply will not suffice against special-interest pressures to treat a large portion of the budget as untouchable, and to perpetuate all existing programs forever, often with cost-of-living add-ons. Thus, we annually spend more than we tax, making up the difference through the very large deficits that lie at the root of our inflation problem. I have concluded after careful deliberation that a constitutional amendment is the only effective means to address the political and structural problems of federal overspending.
I am proposing an amendment to require a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress to adopt a federal budget in which proposed expenditures exceed anticipated revenues. The spirit and the letter of our laws abound with precedent for requiring such an extraordinary majority where restraint is difficult, pressure is intense, and when the subject involves departure from an important norm. The requirement of a two-thirds majority for deficit budgets is effective, straightforward, simply implemented and sufficiently flexible to cover all circumstances in which two-thirds of the Congress agrees that deficits are required.
For many years the Congress has been a large and effective machine for spending great amounts of money, whether revenues were sufficient or not. In the last year, the disastrous effects of this policy have become clear to an increasing number of Democrats and Republicans alike. Brown's is but one more voice raised against the harmful inflationary and confiscatory effects of this policy.
Republicans and Democrats alike will see more clearly that courageous action must be taken to correct the structural infirmity in our budgetary policy, and strident attacks upon Democrats who come to embrace the wisdom of balanced budgets will serve no purpose other than to indicate grave apprehension that the old spending alliances are indeed breaking up. Effort would be better spent in giving constructive direction to the legitimate wishes of the over-whelming majority of the people.