The way to lock down spending

Last year, in a fiscal call to arms, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that the single-biggest threat to our national security is our debt. It was a sobering reminder that when a nation has buried itself under such a mountain of IOUs, it jeopardizes not just its financial well-being, but its very way of life.

Our country must take responsible steps today to ensure that America remains not only a beacon of personal freedom to the world, but also a beacon of economic freedom and prosperity. That was the driving force behind the principled efforts to tie the recent increase in the nation’s debt limit to equal or greater cuts in spending and no tax increases. And it has paved the way for moving a balanced budget amendment through Congress and on to the states for ratification.

Our nation now has the opportunity to make an historic leap forward in restoring fiscal responsibility by voting on a balanced budget amendment. Success in this endeavor will fundamentally change how Washington operates.

It would set in stone lasting constraints on Congress — ensuring that future lawmakers would have to abide by a constitutional commitment to be good stewards of the power and resources given to government. It would further restore some faith in America’s economy because investors, entrepreneurs and job creators would see that Washington finally has the courage to stop running up the nation’s credit card.

President Barack Obama has said he does not favor a balanced budget amendment because Washington ought to be able to hold the line on spending — nevermind that his own administration’s record completely undermines his argument. He has said the nation would be better off with a “balanced approach” rather than a balanced budget. In other words, tax increases tied to phantom spending cuts.

Higher taxes do not create jobs; they create incentive for Washington to spend more money, which inevitably leads to higher debt and more tax increases. The possibility that this reckless cycle might continue is part of what drives the uncertainty plaguing our economy. Job creators face a vast array of unknowns spawned by an overzealous government that funds its misadventures with borrowed dollars. American entrepreneurs have capital that they might invest in hiring if they had confidence Uncle Sam would not drastically increase the cost of doing business through new regulatory schemes and higher taxes.

Enacting a balanced budget amendment would force Washington to live within its means, breaking the habit of borrowing more money for more government. Some are concerned that this may be a backdoor incentive for tax increases.

On the contrary, it would provide much greater transparency and accountability to politicians. If our public debate can truly shift to the need to live within our means by reducing spending and not raising taxes, then the American people would remove any temptation of some politicians to hike taxes. And by requiring government to spend only what it takes in, the out-of-control regulatory regime built on borrowed dollars would receive a much needed haircut.

Living within one’s means is only a foreign concept in Washington. Families and businesses all across our great country must balance their books, and it is past time for Washington to do the same. This is no longer a matter of dollars. The looming debt crisis is a threat to our prosperity and our security. This debate is about protecting the promise and the dream of America.

U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., is chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in the House of Representatives.