Jul 22 2011
She embraces balanced-budget amendment as part of proposal
By Peter Harriman
Rep. Kristi Noem reiterated her support Thursday for a House Republican plan to cut federal spending, limit future spending to a percentage of the value of all the goods and services produced by the country and pass a constitutional amendment requiring the federal government to operate with balanced budgets.
Noem touted the proposal as a means for the country to identify its spending priorities clearly. In her weekly news conference, the Republican also touched on two aspects of the federal government that are high priorities for South Dakota.
Noem pointed to her goal to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act review process to allow the U.S. Forest Service to attack a pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills National Forest more aggressively with logging.
She also said she has formed a bipartisan working group of House members from states along the Missouri River. Its goals, she said, are "to push to get straight answers from the Corps of Engineers" about what more could have been done to prevent flooding on the river this year and what changes need to be made in the corps' river management to ensure that similar extensive flooding does not occur in the future.
While the Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers could be affected by federal spending cuts, Noem said if Congress does not take a "meaningful, visionary, long-term" approach to restraining spending, "within two or three years, we will have an unsustainable government."
A week ago, Noem said she was sponsoring a bill that would prioritize spending to service debt and protect key programs such as Social Security and Medicare if the federal government found Aug. 2 that it could not borrow enough money to meet all its needs. Thursday, she said the government must raise the limit on federal borrowing or "it will be very detrimental to our country." But once the debt ceiling crisis is resolved, she said, Congress must move to cut spending.
"We are headed for a historic financial crisis if we don't address spending," she said. "I don't know if anybody says the status quo is acceptable anymore, even the president."
Gary Aguiar, associate professor of political science at South Dakota State University, said an approach to government that restrains spending and requires a balanced budget is the legacy of California's Proposition 13, passed in 1978.
"It probably started on the federal level in the 1980s," Aguiar said. "A large number of state legislatures have called for a balanced-budget amendment. Not enough to trigger action, but they're pretty close, though."
Aguiar said the proposal Noem endorses to cap federal spending at a percentage of gross domestic product "is something new. We haven't heard that before."
While Noem draws a broad distinction between the House Republican approach and President Obama's call to tie spending cuts to proposals to increase federal revenue, she said the president has not offered a specific enough plan for the Congressional Budget Office to score and for Congress to debate.
"He talks a lot, but he hasn't given us a bill they can score," she said of Obama. "The only agreement is what the House has put forward."
Aguiar said proponents of a balanced-budget amendment, such as Noem, are seeking to appeal to a defined segment of the Republican Party.
"They must think there is a constituency out there, obviously," Aguiar said. "Tea partiers are, at best, one-quarter of the Republican voters in South Dakota, I guess. But they are activists and vocal, so I imagine this is who these Republican freshmen are aiming at.
"Whether this is actually doable and they can actually get it into law is a whole other set of questions I have only begun to wrap my mind around."
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