Published February 1995 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd The Balanced Budget Amendment And the People's Right to Know
An informed and active citizenry is essential to the workings of a representative democracy.
Unfortunately, in the 104th Congress, the new leadership seems determined to ram legislation through the two houses with little or no opportunity for debate, the process by which challenges and solutions are hashed out in public view.
I am not a party to the so-called "Contract with America," that seems to be driving the federal legislative agenda. My contract is with the Constitution of the United States.
The American people have a right to know how their lives and livelihoods will be affected by new laws. They have a right to weigh in on the legislative process with their concerns about, or support for, legislative proposals, and they deserve to have the facts.
The public should be outraged by the actions of some members of the 104th Congress, who are attempting to hide, under a veil of secrecy, the whole truth about legislative proposals such as the proposed Constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
The members of Congress have a responsibility, a duty, to be straightforward with the people they represent. But the proponents of a balanced budget Constitutional amendment seem bent on trying to hustle the ill-conceived proposal through the Congress before the public has the chance to review it. These proponents apparently recognize, as recent polls illustrate, that the more the public learns about the potential effects of the amendment, the less they like it, and the more likely they are to oppose it.
I support reducing the deficits. I am for the goal of balancing the budget. For those reasons, I voted for budget deficit reduction packages in 1990 and in 1993. Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for the 1993 bill that was calculated to shave the deficit by well in excess of $500 billion, over five years.
As the Founding Fathers created it, the United States Senate is an institution intended to foster careful reflection, caution, and considered debate.
As opposed to the House, where members are elected every two years and the legislation is often influenced by the passions sweeping the nation, the Senate was designed by the Constitutional framers as the body where steaming passions would be allowed to cool through thoughtful, thorough examination. It is the Senate's Constitutional role to deliberate, and to guard against hastily produced, poorly crafted, and ill-advised legislation.
To those who are impatient for quick action regardless of the quality of the legislation, this process may seem frustrating, but it is this process that protects the rights of the American public and ensures that legislators will be held accountable for their actions.
I hope that the proponents of the balanced budget amendment will abandon this tactic of denying the public's right to know and will live up to their responsibility to the Constitution and to posterity by participating in a thorough public debate on the proposed Constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
Through such debate, I believe the American public will recognize the pitfalls and the folly of enacting a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
February 8, 1995