GOP Pushes Balanced Budget Amendment

by Andrew Stiles

While President Obama was accusing them of wanting to raid scholarship accounts for needy children in order to incinerate the money in the engine of some rich guy’s private jet (or something), Senate Republicans launched an effort to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, urging Congress to impose on itself the same budgetary rules by which 49 out of 50 (all but Vermont) states must abide.

All 47 GOP senators have signed on to legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and Mike Lee (R., Utah) that would amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget and limit federal spending to 18 percent of GDP. At a press conference outside the Senate chamber Tuesday, a pack of Republicans stressed the need for Congress to “finally learn to live within its means,” and urged their Democratic colleagues to join them in support.

“To truly fix the spending problem in Washington, we have to fundamentally change the rules that govern Congress,” Lee said. “If we want to eliminate deficits, reduce the national debt, get control of spending, preserve our constitutional priorities, and save our economy, it starts with the balanced-budget amendment. It is the only solution that guarantees future reforms will be enforced.”

“A balanced-budget amendment is simply the best way to cut out the smoke and mirrors when it comes to the federal budget process,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), warning that at its current borrowing rate the United States risks becoming subject to the “tender mercies” of our major creditors like China.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) announced last week that the House would take up a balanced-budget amendment in late July. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said he expected action in the Senate shortly thereafter.

In order to successfully amend the Constitution, the bill would need to pass both chambers with a two-thirds majority and be subsequently ratified with the support of at least 38 states. Polls suggest a significant majority of Americans support such an amendment.

Meanwhile, Democrats made sure to remind all who cared to listen that Pres. Bill Clinton was the last president to preside over a balanced budget (they failed to mention who was in charge of Congress then). Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) argued that because the House Republican budget doesn’t reach balance until about 2030, the GOP lacks the credibility to propose a balanced-budget amendment. “Practice what you preach,” he growled to reporters, adding: “There are all kinds of balanced-budget amendments, the [one] they are introducing gives a real break to very wealthy people. It would be much harder to get them to chip in their fair share.”

Indeed, from a Democratic perspective, an amendment that makes it more difficult for Congress to raise taxes would be a real tragedy. But either way, according to Schumer, Democrats aren’t “preaching” fiscal responsibility, so there’s no need for them to act responsibly (e.g., they’ve now gone 791 days without passing any budget, much less a balanced one).

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