The candidates disagree on passing a balanced-budget amendment
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 25, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 08:03 p.m. HST, Oct 25, 2012
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou have different philosophical approaches to reducing the federal deficit and national debt, with Hanabusa favoring steps already taken by Congress and President Barack Obama and Djou preferring more structural guarantees.
The federal government has been experiencing annual deficits that top $1 trillion, while the national debt is at $16 trillion.
Hanabusa, a Democrat, voted for the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the federal debt limit but also included caps on discretionary spending to federal programs that would cut more than $900 billion over the next decade. Congress and the White House have to agree on another $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction or automatic across-the-board cuts to federal programs go into effect starting in January.
Hanabusa also supports the $4 trillion deficit-reduction target in Obama's budget.
"The deficit is a major issue — but it is also a situation of how and what" to cut, she said, adding that Congress has adopted a pay-as-you-go rule to discourage legislation that expands the deficit.
Djou, Hanabusa's Republican opponent in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District, wants a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, line-item veto authority for the president, and an extension of a moratorium on earmarks.
"We can't afford this," he said of the deficit and debt. "I think the American economy can sustain a trillion-dollar budget deficit for a year. But we can't do it year after year after year and not expect it to ruin the future of our country."
A majority in the Republican-controlled House voted for a balanced-budget amendment in November 2011, but fell short of the two-thirds' vote necessary for a constitutional amendment. Hanabusa voted against the amendment.
"I believe a balanced-budget amendment is important to bring that level of fiscal discipline that is absolutely needed in our country," Djou said. "Because without it Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals are always going to continue to bicker, and the easiest thing to do is just run up the charge card and send the bill to the next generation."
Hanabusa said she might consider a balanced-budget amendment with safeguards that would enable Congress to respond to disasters or emergencies. But she said she cannot support such an amendment now given how House Republicans have approached the budget, ruling out new taxes while slashing spending to federal programs.
"I don't think you can talk about this in isolation of how the Republicans view the world," she said.
The House voted last February for a modified line-item veto that would allow the president to recommend individual spending cuts in bills approved by Congress. Lawmakers, however, would then have to decide whether to accept the cuts. Hanabusa voted against a line-item veto.
Congress granted President Bill Clinton a line-item veto in 1996, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Clinton v. City of New York in 1998. The court held that a line-item veto effectively gave the president amendment power over bills, weakening the authority Congress holds over legislation.
Hanabusa, a former state Senate president, said she is wary of Congress ceding authority to the president. "To me, when you talk about the appropriations measures, that is the ultimate policy statement that a legislative body does," she said. "And to give that away, or to diminish the Legislature's right in that fashion, I just have a philosophical difficulty in doing that."
Djou said that while a line-item veto and an earmark moratorium would not balance the budget, he thinks they are steps in the right direction. "Too much of our federal budget gets stuffed with these pork projects all around the country," he said. "And while I recognize that a number of these projects benefit Hawaii, when we're running a $16 trillion national debt, a trillion dollars a year plus on our budget deficit, we're mortgaging off our children's future."
Earmarks are a tool that members of Congress have used to obtain federal money for home-state projects. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has agreed to a moratorium through the session of Congress that ends in January. But Inouye has been a national advocate for earmarks, arguing that lawmakers, and not the president or federal agencies, best know the needs of their home states.
Djou said he does not believe Congress would be yielding too much power to the president and executive branch through a line-item veto or by extending the earmark moratorium. "I think I wouldn't have as much of a problem with earmarks and political pork-barrel projects if we were running a balanced budget," he said. "But it's because we're not running a balanced budget that I support these measures."
Hanabusa would let the earmark moratorium expire. "I don't know how you can represent Hawaii and support an earmark moratorium," she said. "For a state like Hawaii, earmarks have kept us alive."