Washington Watch: Balanced budget hoax

A balanced US budget amendment is a hoax perpetrated by ambitious politicians without the courage to make the difficult decisions on taxation and spending.

Republican presidential candidate US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire April 18 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Republican presidential candidate US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire April 18
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Senators Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have kicked off their presidential campaigns with calls for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
They want voters to think that they will be frugal with their tax dollars and shrink the size of government.
Don’t believe them. It’s a shell game politicians play with voters. If such an amendment passed – it won’t –and if one of them becomes president – they won’t – it won’t affect them because amending the Constitution takes several years, and by then the next president will be running for a second term.
Paul and Cruz aren’t the only ones playing this age-old game. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is flirting with joining the crowd, is traveling around telling state legislators to push for the amendment.
Politicians – mostly but not exclusively Republicans – have been talking about the balanced budget amendment for years and gotten nowhere. It sounds good, but even they don’t believe it.
The truth is that if Republicans were really serious about enacting a balanced budget they could do it today, but they’d rather rail against the big-spending Democrats. And if they believed in a balanced budget, they wouldn’t keep trying to cut taxes for their rich friends while spending wildly on a bloated military.
Republicans have comfortable majorities in the House and the Senate and could send a balanced budget to the White House before leaving on the next undeserved vacation.
If the president vetoes it, they will have a campaign issue to use against any Democrat who doesn’t vote to override.
A constitutional amendment requires twothirds majorities in both houses to send it to the states, where 38 have up to seven years to ratify it. A high-risk alternative is to get 34 state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention, but scholars differ on whether the agenda can be confined to just one subject or everything is on the table. That could mean amendments banning abortion and gay marriage, ending Social Security and Medicare and repealing the First Amendment.
So why don’t they go ahead and pass the balanced budget now? Because they’d rather have the issue than the responsibility, and hoodwink the voters into thinking they have a solution to a problem they themselves created because they lack the courage to raise the taxes to pay for what they’re spending.
Since the last presidential election, deficits have been steadily declining and the economy expanding.
The last time the United States had a budget surplus was when Bill Clinton was president – in fiscal 1999, 2000 and 2001. But those evaporated when George W. Bush took over, cutting taxes for the wealthy while fighting two needless wars and leaving behind the worst recession since the Great Depression.
It’s no coincidence that the most outspoken proponents of the balanced budget amendment also call for cutting taxes for the wealthy and paying for them by cutting food stamps and other social services for low-income and poor people.
Those wealthy benefactors are the ones who will be pouring hundreds of millions into campaign coffers – with their identity often cloaked in secrecy. Little wonder you’re hearing more talk about balancing the budget and cutting taxes for the wealthy than about campaign finance reform and full disclosure.
Advocates of the amendment say it is necessary because politicians lack the discipline or political will to do it on their own. That’s quite an indictment of its sponsors who want to be president.
Proponents argue it would strengthen the country’s credit rating, keep interest rates low, shrink the size of government and make it tougher to enact pork barrel spending. It will also make it difficult to start new programs.
All the proposals for a balanced budget amendment require supermajorities for increasing taxes and raising the debt ceiling.
Opponents argue that requirement imposes potentially dangerous delays and obstacles for government to respond to quickly and effectively in time of natural disaster, war, economic crises or other emergencies.
Senators Cruz and Paul have backed privatizing Social Security and Medicare, giving more of the responsibility for the latter to the states, but not the funds to pay for it.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), another announced contender, also backs the amendment and is calling for some $4 trillion in cuts to entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, and other programs over the next decade, while increasing defense spending. He falls back on the old and discredited idea that tax cuts pay for themselves by producing jobs and revenues.
The three senators plus other presidential wannables like governors Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Kasich have signed a pledge for Americans for Tax Reform that they will never raises taxes. The only contender who refused to sign was former Florida Gov.
Jeb Bush, who no doubt recalled his father’s “read my lips” pledge had cost him a second term.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), author of the House GOP budget, also wants to privatize Medicare. Democrats would like to see Republicans try that because they feel it would be a winning issue for them in 2016. Washington Post Wonkblogger Matt O’Brien said Ryan’s budget “would cut the social safety net and non-defense discretionary spending down to almost nothing.”
That’s what most worries Jewish organizations which lobby Congress to support the community’s programs and interests. They fear the first targets of a balanced budget amendment would be programs serving the poor, the elderly and working class families.
Among the GOP targets have been the research and development, mass transit, infrastructure repairs, Head Start, environmental protection, job training, healthcare and the arts. Their budgets suggest the motivation of not so much frugality as greed and disdain for those who would benefit most from such programs.
Balanced budget law proponents try to draw the comparison between government and the family, saying both must live within their income. That’s dishonest and deceptive.
Most people, unlike government, can’t raise their salaries to pay for the things they need.
So they take loans to pay for college, to buy a home, to purchase a car. Without deficit financing – taking out mortgages and loans – they’d never have been able to save enough to send their kids to school or provide for retirement.
A balanced budget amendment is a hoax perpetrated by ambitious politicians without the courage to make the difficult decisions on taxation and spending.