August 19, 2011

The Permanent Floating Unbalanced Budget Act of 2011

Hatched by Dafydd

Aaron Worthing, guest blogger at my old stomping grounds of Patterico's Pontifications, draws our attention to the well argued and very persuasive case against a balanced-budget amendment (BBA) by political scientist Carson Holloway of Public Discourse. I was never really on board the federal balanced-budget amendment; it has always struck me as being magical thinking, utopianism -- pass an amendment, and all our spending problems will softly and suddenly vanish away.

(I liken this sort of thinking to Franklin Roosevelt declaring "freedom from want" and "freedom from fear" to be basic civil liberties.)

But the Holloway piece has really crystalized my objections to a BBA. Let me try to explain what's so dreadfully wrong with it.

Holloway's point, on a nutshell, is that there is no way to craft a balanced-budget amndment (BBA) such that it neither cripples our ability to borrow when absolutely necessary, nor allows, under cover of a ficticious "balanced budget," the same unrestricted borrowing for frivolous political reasons that Congress enjoys today. No matter how it's crafted, it will de facto sink into one fallacy or the other (I'm not sure which is worse).

Not only that, but the mere existence of a BBA in the Constitution practically compels Congress to jack up taxes whenever it overspends, probably with wide, bipartisan support: The socialist Left votes to raise taxes because, well, they always want to do that; and big-government Republicans follow suit for reasons of "fiscal responsibility." Can't violate that BBA!

Most likely, "responsible" congressmen will pass enabling legislation that automatically triggers tax hikes if the budget remains unbalanced in a fiscal year; and I can easily imagine a Democratic majority deliberately overspending, precisely in order to trigger that hike, under cover of "constitutional prescription."

Our problem isn't the lack of a BBA; our problem is that individual voters aren't holding their congressman's nose to the fire on limitless federal borrowing and spending, to infinity and beyond.

Or rather, they haven't in the recent past held Congress accountable; we took a huge step towards fiscal sanity last November and are poised to do so again in 2012. My friend and worth co-conspirator Brad Linaweaver recently sent me an e-mail bemoaning the fact that all political parties seem to have to "reinvent the wheel" every generation; and of course, Brad is absolutely right. I believe this is one of those instances, and there's nothing we can do but wait for the renaissance -- which is coming fast and strong, as witness the popular front for Capitalism... i.e., the tea-party movements.

But there is another point to be made beyond Holloway's argument: No real BBA (with teeth) has a chance in Hades of passing the current Congress or any other in the future. The only way a BBA will pass with a two-thirds vote in both House and Senate is if it's so watered down, its only purpose is to give cover to the very fiscal irresponsibility it purports to curtail. For evidence, look how easily states, which generally do have constitutional balanced-budget requirements (like my home state of California), can skirt around them by either manipulating the budget to make it facially appear to be in balance, no matter what the reality; or by simply ignoring the state constitution altogether. Not only is a BBA no panacea, it's not even a good placebo!

Worse, fighting tooth and nail for a BBA is a distraction from the real work of reining in Congress; it drains money, energy, time, and political capital that could be better utilized rolling back Obamunism. Democrats would be overjoyed to see the focus of the 2012 campaign shift from Obama's abominable economic record to a partisan tussle over a BBA... especially with the Left's proven talent at monkeying with statutory language and finding friendly judges to reinterpret out of existence any real restriction on federal power. Instead, we need to spend our considerable resources getting rid of the current squatter at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., along with his gangster government (as Michael Barone dubbed it), and cleaning out the cesspool of socialism and loony leftism in Congress -- on both sides the aisle, alas.

So let's boil the cabbage down:

  • It's impossible to enact a BBA that would really work, at least in the present environment; it's utopian wish fulfillment to think some constitutional amendment will be a "magic bullet" that will solve our economic crisis.
  • In the long run, the crusade to implement a BBA would cripple our ability actually to solve our terrible fiscal and economic crisis by sucking up vital political and financial resources better spent on voting the thugs out of office; it substitutes wheel spinning for actual progress, in the proper meaning of that word, away from "liberal fascism" and towards individualism, Americanism, and Capitalism.
  • And in the very short run, it would remove the spotlight from liberal corruption, incompetence, and socialistic experimentation and focus it instead upon Republican "radicalism," almost certainly giving the DNC a huge boost at the ballot booth in 2012.

If a BBA becomes the main Republican economic platform plank, then I predict we will only barely retake the Senate, may actually lose seats in the House -- and Barack Obama will be easily reelected, running against "radical Republicans" who want to write wartime insolvency and automatic tax hikes into the Constitution.

It's hard to think of a worse economic strategy, for the election and for the country.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 19, 2011, at the time of 3:44 PM


The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

I like your point about

individual voters aren't holding their congressman's nose to the fire
I would agree wholeheartedly with that. In the end, the Balanced Budget Amendment is another example of Republicans looking to Government to solve our problems. 'After all, bigger Government is better, as long as it's doing things OUR way!' Bleah.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 20, 2011 10:01 PM

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