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Calls grow louder for budget amendment

Loren Enns describes himself as “a normal average Joe” from Florida who has never run for public office with “zero” political experience and “zero” name recognition.

He’s not a household name, for sure, but he’s getting plenty of name recognition in political circles through his efforts to promote the passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. A host of Republican office holders – past and present – are listed on his website (Balanced Budget Now!).

He adds former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and former Gov. Butch Otter to his army of supporters. Earlier this month, Enns spent a couple of weeks in the Gem State, braving the snow and talking with legislators about the importance of a balanced budget amendment.

“Sen. Craig was on about 80 percent of our calls, and there’s something a little different when he’s on the call,” Enns told me. “He was a senior senator for so long, a congressman and he was at the forefront of this fight when I was in elementary school.”

Craig, in 1979, was among the state senators voting for a constitutional convention to consider a budget amendment and continued promoting the issue through his congressional career. Craig was a staunch ally of President Reagan, who spent two terms arguing for a balanced budget amendment.

With Reagan’s push, 32 states agreed to have a constitutional convention, but it was two states short of what was needed to force a convention. Since then, according to Enns, 21 states rescinded calls for a convention. Over the last decade, Enns has gotten 16 states back on board. He, along with Craig, are hoping that Idaho will be added to the list.

The budget amendment also is on the docket for the Constitution of States initiative, which has 19 states on board. Enns’ idea is to have a budget amendment as the only item for consideration in a constitutional convention.

We’ll see what happens on the issue in the Idaho Legislature, but there is plenty of political support for the cause – and plenty of urgency, with the national debt cracking the $34 trillion mark. Gov. Brad Little called for a budget amendment in his state-of-the-state address, and Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation backs a budget amendment.

A constitutional amendment would leave Congress with no choice but to put the nation’s fiscal house in order. Everything would be on the table – including cutting spending, reforming “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare and taxing the rich.

Enns says a balanced budget would not occur in a year or two, even with an amendment in place. Seven to 10 years would be a more realistic time frame, but work could begin immediately.

It’s all doable, he says.

“The entire federal budget is around $6 trillion, and there’s $2 trillion that has been negotiated with the debt ceiling,” Enns said. “That means you’d have to cut $200 billion a year for 10 years on a $6 trillion budget. That would amount to cutting 3 percent of the federal budget each year. I’m sure Congress wouldn’t be happy, but 3 percent of the federal budget is not that painful.”

It’s still a tall order, but as Enns sees it, “Congress would have to do what states do, and that’s prioritize. Up to this point, they (members of Congress) have been like spoiled rich children that have their own credit cards.”

Enns gladly will leave it to Congress to hammer out the details if a budget amendment goes into effect. He has a few ideas, though.

“The military, as we all know, could be slashed by 25 percent and we wouldn’t lose any of our readiness. If it (the military) were a private company, whoever is running that show would be fired,” Enns said. “Everyone says we would have to raise taxes. Why not spur the economy and create economic growth? People aren’t talking about that. But it would increase revenue, and the budget cuts might not have to be so drastic.”

Oil drilling, he says, would be one option for spurring the economy. Craig mentions lifting government restrictions on businesses, a longtime complaint from Republicans, as another possibility.

One thing is for sure – a budget amendment would change the scope of debate in Congress, and it might be a refreshing one. Instead of arguing over the debt ceiling, members would have to figure out how to make ends meet.

Chuck Malloy

Chuck Malloy

Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at [email protected].

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