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Federal debt is $18 trillion and growing

At more than $18 trillion and climbing swiftly, the U.S. national debt is a very real threat to our prosperity as a nation. The total works out to nearly $60,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

A new attempt to get federal spending under control has been launched. Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he is leading a campaign to add a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

This is not the first time such action has been contemplated. But there is new urgency now because the process of piling up new debt accelerated dramatically under President Barack Obama. About 40 percent of the total debt has been accumulated since he took office – and Obama has two more years in his term.

Spending has been curbed somewhat during the past year. Still, annual federal spending deficits are expected to exceed $400 billion for the next few years.

A constitutional amendment such as Kasich and his supporters envision would do precisely what the name implies. It would require that Congress not approve budgets in which spending is higher than expected revenues.

Obviously, some phase-in time would have to be permitted. One key to a successful amendment would be to limit the grace period.

Under both Republican and Democrat presidents and majorities in Congress, the debt has continued to grow. Unfortunately, spending beyond our means as a nation appears to have bipartisan appeal.

Clearly, something needs to be done to stop the wild spending spree in Washington. That is emphasized by the fact the current respite – if $400 billion in deficit spending each year can be called that – will be temporary. Analysts expect that by 2022, annual deficits will be back above $1 trillion.

But critics of the Kasich campaign have valid concerns. Among them is that presidents and congresses will choose to balance the budgets on the backs of local and state governments.

There is reason to worry about that. In the past, temporary curbs on spending have been accomplished in part by slashing federal funding to local and state governments. A massive new shut-off would be disastrous – but easy to accomplish. Think about the newly expanded Medicaid program, for which Obama and Congress have pledged the federal government would bear all of the cost for a few years. Going back on that pledge would wreck budgets in nearly all the states.

Rejecting a balanced budget amendment out of hand would be much like a heroin addict refusing to get treatment to kick the habit. We as a nation are hooked on spending like there is no tomorrow.

But tomorrow will come – and with it will be economic catastrophe for our children and our grandchildren, unless deficit spending is curbed.

Kasich is right to be suggesting mandatory limits on spending. He and supporters should be encouraged to recommend a realistic balanced budget amendment.

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