February 6, 1997, Senate Floor
statement by Senator McCain:
Yesterday, the Senate began debate on the Balanced-Budget Constitutional Amendment, of which I am an ardent supporter. Passing this amendment, and abiding by it, is the most important action we can take to protect the future of our children, grandchildren and future grandchildren. Congress' insatiable appetite for spending is mortgaging the prosperity of these future generations. Not only is this irresponsible, but it is immoral.
Our founding fathers recognized the basic principle that the federal government must not spend beyond its means. Thomas Jefferson said, "We should consider ourselves unauthorized to saddle posterity with our debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves." Unfortunately, we have strayed far from Mr. Jefferson's wise advice.
The federal government's uncontrolled spending has built up an enormous national debt that currently stands at $5.3 trillion. Apportioned equally, this means that every man, woman and child in this country currently owes almost $20,000. Put another way, if you spent a dollar every second, it would take 150,000 years to spend our current debt. And our debt is still growing by $4,500 per second -- about the same amount it would cost to send three people to a community college.
The economic rewards for balancing the budget should be reason enough to act. Many well respected economists predict that if the budget were balanced, interest rates would drop by about 2 percent. This would mean annual savings of $1,230 on a middle class family's home mortgage; $216 on an average student loan; and $180 on an average auto loan. In the federal budget world of billions and trillions, these savings are all too often ignored, but these are real savings that would lead to a better life for America's families.
Although Congress has talked endlessly about balancing the budget, the budget has not been balanced since 1969. Without a Balanced-Budget Constitutional Amendment, I doubt the President or Congress will ever have the political courage to balance the budget. We simply lack the discipline to control our spending habits. We have ignored our responsibility to put our fiscal house in order, choosing instead to leave future generations of Americans with an overwhelming legacy of debt. It is simply immoral to allow this deficit spending to continue. Our duty as elected officials must be to preserve a strong and solvent nation for the next generation.
Let us show the American people that we take our duties seriously. We must prove we are ready to embrace fiscal responsibility permanently. The moment has finally come for Congress to pass the Balanced Budget Amendment and send it on to the states. Let us begin a national debate, in every state legislature in this country. Americans have waited decades for this opportunity. They have waited long enough.