The Balanced Budget Amendment: Good Politics, Bad Policy

Congressional Republicans are once again pushing for the enactment of a Balanced Budget Amendment. The Amendment, which was introduced by conservative Utah Senator Mike Lee, would require that revenues equal expenditures every year, and that they never exceed 18 percent of the gross domestic product. A two-thirds majority of Congress would be required to exceed those limits or to “levy a new tax or increase the rate of any tax.”

In a political environment where almost all spending has been demonized, it’s easy to understand how the idea of a Balanced Budget Amendment has become popular. While it may be good politics, however, the Balanced Budget Amendment would be terrible policy. As Slate’sDoug Kendall and Dahlia Lithwick put it:

“A balanced budget amendment sounds like a great idea—until you read a little U.S. history and count all the times America spent more in a fiscal year than it raised in taxes and why that was necessary for our very survival….[d]ebt helped fund the War for Independence, complete the Louisiana Purchase, and preserve the Union during the Civil War. Debt not only helped us weather the Great Depression; it also gave us the tools we needed to emerge victorious from two world wars.”

There’s a reason the Constitution specifically grants Congress the authority “to borrow money on the credit of the United States.” In times of crisis, the Balanced Budget Amendment could be a fiscal disaster.

The provision that would require a supermajority to raise taxes also ignores the intent of the Constitution, which empowers Congress “to lay and collect Taxes … to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” As Kendall and Lithwick point out, the provision “would remove huge swaths of lawmaking power from majority rule and arbitrarily limit the size of government to a level not seen since the 1960s. Under the guise of promoting fiscal responsibility, we would be creating a government that could not govern.”

The Balanced Budget Amendment has little chance of becoming law; even if all 47 Republicans in the Senate vote in favor of it, 20 Democrats would have to support it as well. That seems highly unlikely, if not impossible.

Congress is currently looking to find $1.5 trillion in cuts to the deficit through the “supercommittee,” toying with efforts to solve the painful unemployment crisis, and trying to avoid a devastating double-dip recession. It should not waste time debating the Balanced Budget Amendment, which is a political ploy that would be disastrous policy, and will only serve to distract Congress from the important issues that it has yet to tackle.


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Remembering A Great American: Edwin Fancher, 1923-2023

Norman Mailer, seated, Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf, founders of The Village Voice

If you are lucky in your life, you come to know one or two people who made you who you are other than your parents who gave you the extraordinary gift of life. Edwin Fancher, who it is my sad duty to inform you died last Wednesday in his apartment on Gramercy Park at the age of 100, is one such person in my life. He was one of the three founders of The Village Voice, the Greenwich Village weekly that became known as the nation’s first alternative newspaper. The Voice, and he, were so much more than that.

Keep reading...Show less
How Is That Whole 'Law And Order' Thing Working Out For You, Republicans?

Former Georgia Republican Party chair David Shafer

One of the great ironies – and there are more than a few – in the case in Georgia against Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants is the law being used against them: The Georgia RICO, or Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations Act. The original RICO Act, passed by Congress in 1970, was meant to make it easier for the Department of Justice to go after crimes committed by the Mafia and drug dealers. The first time the Georgia RICO law was used after it was passed in 1980 was in a prosecution of the so-called Dixie Mafia, a group of white criminals in the South who engaged in crimes of moving stolen goods and liquor and drug dealing.

Keep reading...Show less
{{ }}