Balancing the budget requires an amendment to the Constitution. Balancing the gum-flapping needs of our elected representatives requires Orrin Hatch and a checklist.
A phalanx of Republican senators -- 15 at first, though Sens. Lindsey Graham and John Barrasso arrived late to give their redundant 2 cents -- marched into the ornate Mansfield Room (sadly, named for Mike, not Jayne) this afternoon. They were there to proclaim for television cameras the support of all 47 Republican senators for a balanced budget amendment, in a deal brokered by our very own Sen. Pat Toomey. It was Toomey's first Capitol press conference, and as the man who bridged the gap between the Hatch-John Cornyn balanced budget amendment and the Mike Lee-Jon Kyl version, he warranted special mention.
But with this many legislators eager to worship at the altar of fiscal discipline, Hatch kept them in line with a carefully ordered list by seniority and involvement in the bill. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell led off, followed by Hatch, Lee, Cornyn, then Toomey -- all clocking in at two minutes or less and all saying virtually the same things about the need to rein in excessive spending and how much better off we'd have been if Hatch's original proposal hadn't fallen short by a single Senate vote of the required 67 in 1997.
Hatch called on his colleagues one at a time to state their support. Jim DeMint said "we need a debate and a vote on this before we vote on the debt ceiling." Jon Hoeven noted that when he was the governor of North Dakota he had to balance a budget every year and it's totally not that hard. Rand Paul said he hopes Democrats will get on board and "embrace fiscal sanity again." Barrasso had the makings of a catchy rap song with "The debt is a threat to our future." Hatch ticked down his list until he got to New Hampshire freshman Kelly Ayotte and, by the time the floor was opened up for questions, most of the gathered senators had split.
Cornyn was still there, though, noting that there are two ways to an amendment -- either the states ratify a Congressional proposal or they call a Constitutional Convention. So, a reporter asked, are you advocating for a convention?
"My preference is we would pass this, which would moot the whole issue of a Constitutional Convention," he said. "I was saying that is in Article V of the Constitution that would be an alternative if we don’t do our job. I hope we do our job and that would moot that."
Pressed by reporters on the wisdom of mandating that the country spend no more than 18 percent of the Gross Domestic Product each year, Hatch said that was about an average of spending in the past 50 years, then Toomey leapt to the Utahn's side.
"As recently as 2007 total federal spending was just barely over 19 percent of GDP," Toomey said. "And that was a time, I’d argue, that Congress was not at all trying to exercise any fiscal discupline and yet virtually by accident there they were at just over 19 percent. It wouldn’t take a big lift from there to get us down to 18."
From 19 to 18? No sweat. From 47 to 67 is the trick for this bunch.