The Corner

Economy & Business

If a Balanced Budget Amendment Could Pass, We Wouldn’t Need One

(Mesut Doğan/Dreamstime)

Per The Hill, Republicans are set to campaign for a Balanced Budget Amendment:

House Republicans will push for a balanced budget amendment after they return from recess, according to a report from Politico.

The report follows the passage of the $1.3 trillion omnibus package to fund the government through September.

That bill was ripped by conservatives in the House and Senate, and President Trump vowed to never approve a similar bill again.

As most of the write-ups have suggested, this is mostly a campaign ploy, contrived by a party that has just realized that its base is extremely disappointed in it. But there are people out there who’d genuinely like to see this — and, for that matter, who believe that it would be an effective way of getting spending under control and beginning to reduce the debt. Take a look at any literature in support of a rightward-learning Article V convention and you will find a provision such as this one.

As usual, I am deeply, deeply skeptical. It’s not that I’m opposed to it in principle; I’m not, although if we’re going to have a government that does what ours does there are some excellent arguments against permanently depriving Congress of the power to run a deficit. Rather, it’s that if a proposal such as this had the requisite support, it wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. The federal government routinely fails to balance its budget because Congress does not want to balance the budget. And Congress does not want to balance the budget because voters do not want to balance the budget. Or, more accurately, they don’t want to do what would be necessary in order to do so. There are, in truth, very few fiscal hawks in Washington — or in the country at large. Some politicians want to cut taxes; others want to increase social spending; yet more want to increase defense spending. Rare is the elected official who wants to increase taxes and slash spending, and those that do exist would probably be kicked out of office if they actually managed to do it. That — not for lack of a constitutional mandate — is why spending is out of control. Nobody will touch entitlements. Nobody will jack up taxes. Nobody will even defund NPR.

That being so, it is a little odd to assume that we could convince two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states to amend the Constitution, which, because they’re campaigning for this change from Washington, is what the Republicans are promising they are going to do. As we have seen time and time and time again, even a fully Republican-run federal government can’t balance its budget on a straight majority vote. A supermajority Congress is going to do so permanently? And if it refuses, 34 states are going to call a convention, and get 38 of the 50 to do it anyway? Pull the other one.

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