FARGO – Democrat Heidi Heitkamp delivered a few campaign pledges today about what she’d do to promote budget control if she’s elected to the U.S. Senate.
Specifically, Heitkamp said she would support a form of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, along with other cuts to congressional office spending.
“Where in the past, I haven’t always been a big fan of amending the Constitution to take care of things that legislators and public servants can do all on their own … I’ve been persuaded in the last year,” Heitkamp said in a conference call with state and national reporters.
She said Congress’ “colossal failure” to act on recommendations by the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission and by the congressional super-committee have reinforced the lack of fiscal discipline in Washington.
“It almost becomes essential, if we’re going to get this job done, to impose some kind of guideline that is rigid and fair, so they have a direct obligation,” Heitkamp said.
However, Heitkamp said she would want some flexibility in requiring a balanced budget, so exceptions could be made in the case of wartime and entitlement spending.
In supporting such a measure, Heitkamp said she wants to exempt Social Security and Medicare, so there’s no impact on those spending obligations.
“Why I’m not willing to promote a balanced budget amendment that includes Social Security is that when you look at Social Security, right now, it is in fact what’s propping up this spending,” Heitkamp said. “This is not a problem with Social Security. It doesn’t seem fair that Social Security would be part of any sort of sequestration. … I think it needs its own process and we will be able to work things out in the end to basically take care of the Social Security fund.”
Specifically, Heitkamp’s campaign said she backs a proposal similar to the one offered by Colorado Sen. Mark Udall.
- Require the federal budget be balanced each year unless 3/5ths of each House (60 votes in the Senate) vote to waive.
- Require the President to submit a budget each year that is balanced.
- The provision would be waived when the U.S. is in a declared time of war.
- Create a Social Security lockbox that protects the revenue and outlays of Social Security from any balanced budget requirement.
- Prohibit Congress from providing income tax breaks for people earning over $1,000,000 a year, unless the country is running a surplus (Those surpluses must also not be eliminated if such a tax break were enacted).
North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad – the Senate’s Budget Committee chairman – was a member of the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission and also continues to spearhead efforts by the “Gang of Six” in seeking to fix the nation’s financial problems.
However, Heitkamp said Conrad is not to blame for the “colossal failure” she spoke of.
“After they did the hard work and took the vote, Congress did nothing with it and the president did nothing with the report,” Heitkamp said. “We are not going to pin this on Kent Conrad. Kent Conrad offered a solution and made some pretty tough decisions.”
“He’s pushed this and has taken this as far as he can,” she added.
Heitkamp also pledged today to cut congressional office budgets by at least 5 percent, which she said is “a small thing, but I think it’s in response to people’s concern that they’ve had to tighten their budget and why is it that Congress and the government can’t, too?”
Lastly, Heitkamp said she’d vote against any congressional pay raise unless the federal budget is balanced.
“I don’t care if I’m there for 35 years, I will never vote for a pay raise,” she said. “If pay raises are granted, I’ll turn them back to the Treasury.”
Heitkamp organized the conference call today to share her fiscal positions and reiterate her opposition to official House mailings Rep. Rick Berg sent out last year, which cost taxpayers in excess of $100,000 and, which Democrats say, cross the line into campaign material.
“Campaigns are about contrast,” Heitkamp said. “I’m never going to be spending over $100,000 of hard-earned taxpayer dollars so that I can supplement my campaign with campaign fliers. It’s irresponsible. I think it tells you a lot about the real commitment to balancing this budget and getting the job done.”
Berg is seeking the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race. Heitkamp received the Democrats’ official endorsement on Saturday.
Berg’s congressional office has consistently denied the official mailings were campaign material. His office has also explained how he has supported reductions to House members’ office budgets and how Berg specifically gave back about $130,000 he didn’t spend last year.
In response to that fact today, Heitkamp said: “Shame on them.”
“This should not have passed any muster,” she said. “I don’t care if they passed any bipartisan commission, they’re clearly a waste of taxpayer money.”