Forty-nine of the states in the American union have requirements in their constitutions that their budgets must be balanced (all except Vermont). Most actually allow an imbalance if revenues exceed expenditures and a surplus is budgeted (some actually limit such a surplus to a set % of the revenue). The federal constitution does not require that the budget be balanced and leaves to the Congress (majority of both houses) and the President the adoption of appropriations and revenue laws. This has led through the twentieth century to much borrowing as the Constitution does provide that the bills of the U.S. incurred due to legislation, i.e. the budget and other laws, must be paid.
Now the radical right wing Tea Party Republicans are trying to force through their version of a Balanced Budget Amendment. It is not the balanced approach of the amendment that passed the House and failed by only one vote in the Senate in March of 1995. Nor is it the balanced approach of the balanced budget amendment that thirty-two state legislatures have petitioned Congress to adopt (if that number reaches thirty-four Congress could call a convention to consider an amendment)
The radical right wing Tea Party Republicans are now supporting and even used the debt ceiling crisis, which they manufactured, to try to force passage of their unbalanced version of a balanced budget amendment. Rather than simply require the budget to be balanced they would also limit expenditures to 18% of economic output (not being an economist I don’t know if that means the GDP or the GNP). Only by a 2/3 vote of each House could expenditures be increased. If one wanted to balance the budget by raising revenue under the new radical plan it would take a 2/3 vote of each House and a 3/5 vote to raise the debt ceiling to allow borrowing to meet any imbalance. This would also place the concept of the debt ceiling in the constitution thus negating any value of section 4 of the 14th Amendment. To show something, I don’t know what, these radical Tea Party Republicans would allow 3/5 (60%) of both Houses to waive the amendment anytime they want.
Of course in case of war or military conflict a majority of the members of both houses can waive the amendment presumably as it applies to expenditures for military purposes. So a majority can spend anything they want on war and conflict but it could take 2/3 or 3/5 to spend to feed Women and Infant Children or support Pell Grants for students.
This is not a balanced budget amendment. This version that the radical right wing Tea Party Republicans are spreading is an attempt to place in the constitution an impediment to continue funding the programs of the twentieth century - known as the Square Deal of Theodore Roosevelt, the New Freedom of Woodrow Wilson, the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Fair Deal of Harry Truman, the New Frontier of John F Kennedy, the Great Society of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the attempts by Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush and Clinton to maintain a social safety net for all Americans.
Even more dangerous the radical right wing Tea Party Republican so-called balanced budget amendment would prevent Congress and the President from dealing with great recessions or depressions or other massive economic downturns by essentially requiring expenditure cuts whenever the economy tanked and revenue went down. Precisely the time when most economists believe the government should neither cut back services, jobs and outlays nor increase taxes. Of course as we know radical right wing Tea Party Republicans seem only to care about preventing tax increases on those who can afford to pay them.
Liberal Progressive Democrats should call the right wing radical Tea Party Republican bluff. Put forth a clean balanced budget amendment that allows a majority of both houses leeway to deal with national crises - as the founders in the original constitution designed. Dare them to vote for a clean real balanced budget amendment like that almost adopted in 1995 and endorsed by 32 states. The radical right wing Tea Party Republicans won’t buy it. They’ll say No. Because what they want is to make it nighttime in America. And they want to make sure that the constitution prevents it from ever becoming morning again.
8 Aug. 2011