Research Articles on Federal Fiscal Issues

These articles and publications address the various reasons groups seek to use Article V to propose a fiscal responsibility provision in the Constitution.

A moment of truth for our country’s financial future – November 29, 2017 – an op-ed written by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles that appeared in the Washington Post.  They had been the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, appointed by President Obama.
They note that “Seven years and almost $7 trillion in new debt ago” they released a bipartisan package of tax and spending reforms… declaring that “the era of deficit denial was over,” but “Sadly, the debate on tax reform in the House and Senate suggests deficit denial is not only back but also stronger than ever.”  They offer their prescription for restoring federal fiscal sanity.

Restoring America’s Fiscal Constitution  – October 2017 – an important new book by economists John D. Merrifield (University of Texas at San Antonio) and Barry W. Poulson (professor emeritus of economics at the University of Colorado).  Published by Lexington Books.  Their detailed treatise offers “clear, timely, and on point well-chosen fiscal rules that constrain and impose discipline on democratic government budget policies…” according to Marvin Phaup of George Washington University.
Another reviewer, Randall G. Holcombe of Florida State University, says, “Merrifield and Poulson clearly show the fiscal challenges that lie ahead for the United States government, and drawing from experience—both good and bad— from Switzerland and other European countries, suggest a set of fiscal rules to limit deficit spending.  Their ideas are both sensible and politically palatable. They provide a superb blueprint for fiscal reform.”
Although the book focuses mostly on economic issues relating to the suggested new fiscal rules, the  final two chapters ‘A Roadmap to Restore America’s Fiscal Constitution’, and ‘Reopening the Constitutional Road to a Balanced Budget Amendment’ will be of special interest to advocates of an Article V BBA.

Federal Debt Increases for 60th Straight Fiscal Year – October 2017 – An article by Terence P. Jeffrey, published by  He reports that the last fiscal year in which the federal debt declined was fiscal 1957.  His article includes a chart which documents the dramatic climb in America’s indebtedness, along with exact year-by-year figures.

A Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment – July, 2017 – by Rob NatelsonThis is an important Policy Brief published by the Heartland Institute.  The 15-page Brief opens with a discussion of the national government’s debt crisis. Noting “the same dysfunctions that impede Congress from balancing the federal budget also prevent it from proposing a BBA,” Natelson suggests an Article V convention of the states is the most promising vehicle for proposing a BBA.
He points out the many challenges (political, practical, semantic) that contribute to the complexity of crafting a proposed Constitutional amendment which seeks to balance the federal budget and restore fiscal restraint in Washington, DC.  Natelson seeks to restart the process by offering the Policy Brief for discussion.  He says, “This draft balanced budget amendment is designed to renew and improve discussion, not to end it.”

How Millennials Can Help Reduce the Federal Deficit – November, 2017 – by Linsdey Stroud of the Heartland Institute, published by Investor’s Business Daily. The article opens with a 1936 quote by former president Herbert Hoover, “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.”

Debt, Deficits, and the BBA – by William Fruth – 2017

Can a New Homestead Act Solve the Debt Crisis? – July, 2017 – by Dr. Barry Poulson and Professor John Merrifield.  The two economists have been studying “fiscal rules” used in other countries in an effort to learn what restraints might be placed on the US federal government to restore fiscal balance.
They propose the sale of certain federal assets that are now underutilized. “For instance,” they say, “Congress could pass a new Homestead Act, thereby selling federal land, real estate, and mineral rights. This Homestead Act could improve the nation’s finances in several ways.  The revenue generated from the asset sales could be earmarked for debt reduction.  As assets are transferred into the private sector, profit-maximizing owners and entrepreneurs would bid for the resources, ensuring they will be allocated toward their most productive uses.  The more efficient allocation of these resources would generate higher levels of income and tax revenues.”

9 Years After The Financial Crisis, A Debt Limit Is No Solution To US Debt Problems – July 11, 2017 – by Dr. Barry Poulson and Professor John Merrifield.  This commentary was published in the Investor’s Business Daily.  The authors say “The U.S. now exhibits all the symptoms of debt overhang and faces a major challenge in curing this problem.” They argue that their simulation analysis reveals that the U.S. could cure ‘debt overhang’ over the next two decades (if certain fiscal) rules (were) in place.”

Can the US Debt Growth Be Stopped? Find this important work under “Books” above. In this book two respected economists examine how OEDC countries (particularly Switzerland and Sweden) responded to debt build-up during and after the great recession.  Their extensive studies have led the authors to identify fundamental changes that they recommend in US budget processes to get America on a path toward reduced national debt.

Adm. Mike Mullen: Debt is still biggest threat to U.S. securityan interview published in Fortune on May 10, 2012 – by Geoff Colvin.

Former top military officer sees national debt as biggest threat to country – Published in the Washington Examiner on January 21, 2014 – by Tim Mark.  This is a more recent interview with the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen.

The Long Story of U.S. Debt, From 1790 to 2011, in 1 Little ChartPublished in The Atlantic on November 13, 2012 – by Matt Phillips.
This piece is much more than a “little chart”.  Unfortunately the data only extend through 2011, but it shows how the United States has managed to become the world’s biggest debtor.

“National Debt,” Just Facts: A Resource for Independent Thinkers reports that since the 1960s money coming into the federal government has consistently ranged between 17 and 20 percent of the national GDP… but spending has ranged between 17 and 26 percent of GDP.

Investing in North American Competitiveness is a report by the George W. Bush Institute.  It says the United States “must put its long-term fiscal and monetary trajectory on a sustainable course.”  It reports that “The US ratio of government debt to GDP is currently 77 percent, a historically high level for the United States, and is projected to climb to 141 percent of GDP in 2046”.

Higher Interest Rates Will Raise Interest Costs on the National Debt warns about the impact of rising interest rates on the federal budget.  The report says, “Ballooning interest costs threaten to crowd out important public investments that can fuel economic growth in the future.  In its most recent long-term budget report, CBO estimates that by 2046, interest costs are projected to be more than double what the federal government has historically spent on R&D, nondefense infrastructure, and education, combined.”

Capitulation before the first shots are fired is an article by respected economist Dr. Barry Poulson.  It was published in American Thinker.  In the article Poulson suggests that now that Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the Executive branch they could finally break through the budget gridlock.  But, he says, “Republicans seem to have capitulated before the battle has begun.”

NCSL Fiscal Brief on State Balanced Budget Provisions.  Activists argue that most states operate under some form of balanced budget constraints… and the federal government should too.  As of October 2010 the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that (*depending on definitions) 49 states have statutory or constitutional requirements that their state budget must balance spending against revenue.  Their full NCSL report is here.

The United States Has No Fiscal Space Left  This is an op-ed published at on June 21, 2017 by economists John Merrifield and Barry Poulson. It contends that fiscal policies and budgets currently being proposed by Congress and President Trump fall far short of what is needed. They say, “Fiscal space is estimated as the distance between actual debt levels and their estimated limit. Debt limits are measured by the level of debt at which the government defaults and loses market access, with the result that it cannot continue to service the debt.”  They argue, “[I]f the United States had enacted fiscal rules to constrain deficits and debt over the past two decades — as some OECD countries have done — the national debt could have been reduced below tolerance levels by relying on orthodox fiscal policies. Thus a modest reduction in the rate of growth in spending and entitlement reform could have balanced the budget.”