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Letter to the Senate Opposing Two Balanced Budget Amendment Proposals

December 12, 2011

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we urge you to VOTE NO on any constitutional balanced budget amendment proposal, including the separate proposals by Senators McConnell, Hatch, and Udall scheduled for a vote this week. While we understand the need to get our nation's fiscal house in order, such proposals are not the right mechanism.# The effect of any balanced budget amendment would be devastating for public education and retirement security, undermining economic recovery and jeopardizing our future strength as a nation. Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 112th Congress.

The McConnell-Hatch proposal contains a severe global spending cap, requires a two-thirds majority vote in Congress for increasing any revenues, and a three-fifths majority for increasing the debt limit. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the global spending cap would force Congress to cut all programs by an average of one-fourth by 2018. If the cuts were spread evenly, non-defense discretionary would be cut by $140 billion in 2018 and $900 billion through 2021, dropping the investment in programs like education to their smallest share of the economy since 1930! Our nation simply cannot compete in a global economy based on Great Depression-era budgets. Cutting all programs by the same percentage to fit within the cap would also result in cuts to Social Security of $266 billion in 2018 alone and almost $1.7 trillion through 2021; to Medicare of $169 billion in 2018 and almost $1.1 trillion through 2021; to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) of $115 billion in 2018 and more than $700 billion through 2021; and to veterans disability, pension, and other benefits of $19 billion in 2018 and $123 billion through 2021, in addition to cuts that would be made in veterans’ health care. Limiting the cuts in some programs would require cutting others even more severely.# For instance, exempting Social Security from cuts would require cutting other programs by more than one-third on average.

While the proposal by Senator Udall does not contain the spending caps or supermajorities for raising revenues and the debt limit, it, like all balanced budget amendments, would still be devastating for education funding and other priorities. Overall, it could result in the largest cuts in federal spending in modern history.# In fact, it simply will not be possible to achieve the spending levels required under this or any other balanced budget amendment without massive cuts in education, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that meet crucial national needs.# A balanced budget amendment would also damage the ‘automatic stabilizers’ in our economy. It would raise serious risks of tipping weak economies into recession and making recessions longer and deeper, causing very large job losses.

Educators understand that Congress must work to ensure America’s long-term economic prosperity and that we must address the nation’s serious fiscal challenges.# However, cutting education funding and slashing programs that serve children, seniors, and working families is not the answer.# Claims that families and states balance their budgets are misleading.# Most families have mortgages and car loans, and take on other debt to provide for their children’s futures.# In addition, while many states must balance their operating budgets, they take on debt for capital costs and job-creating projects such as building roads, bridges, and schools.

NEA members see first-hand every day the struggles of many of their students and their families.# A balanced budget amendment will make their struggles even harder - essentially abandoning them while continuing to cater to the wealthiest in our nation.#

Mandating a balanced budget would constitute exceedingly unwise economic policy.# Both the McConnell and Udall proposals would risk tipping a faltering economy into recession and slowing economic recovery.# They would essentially determine spending levels for decades and tie future Congress’ hands.# And, they would render impossible the sorts of investments necessary to continue economic recovery and grow the skilled workforce necessary for future economic strength.#

A balanced budget amendment would decimate public education and other programs that ensure a competitive workforce and future economic vitality.# We urge your opposition to any such proposal.


Kim Anderson
Director, Center for Advocacy

Mary Kusler
Manager, Federal Advocacy