The US Congress should pass a balanced budget, not a phony balanced budget amendment.
On April 12, Republicans in the House of Representatives will stage a vote on an amendment to the US Constitution that pretends to balance the federal budget, but really just raises the threshold to pass future deficits by anti-democratic supermajorities. Such a move would entrench gridlock, give minority parties greater power to shut down the government, and make it impossible for voters to hold the majority party of Congress accountable for either tax increases or spending cuts.
Just as families sometimes spend more in a year than they take in, government spending sometimes should exceed tax revenues. Families take out loans to deficit spend on homes, college tuitions and cars, while governments deficit spend on infrastructure investments, wars or to stimulate the economy during a recession.
But, just as families later in life bring in more income that they spend in order to pay down past debts and save for retirement, governments too should run surpluses to reduce debt when the economy is overheating. The last time the US ran a surplus was between 1998 and 2001.
Rather than following responsible economic policies, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a massive tax cut that primarily benefits corporations and billionaires precisely at a time when the economy does not need stimulation due to near-full employment levels. Corporations were already sitting on excess funds primarily because wages have not kept up with inflation. To grow the economy now, we need to grow wages, not just give corporations even larger piles of cash reserves. They will simply pocket the cash because they can’t sell more products to a consumer base that is working hard but still broke.
So, to appease their loony libertarian campaign donors, like Charles and David Koch, the House GOP is about to pass a phony amendment to the Constitution that doesn’t do what it claims to. Even Republicans begrudgingly admit that it sometimes makes sense to deficit spend, so their supposed “balanced budget amendment” doesn’t really require the budget to balance. It merely says that deficit budgets must pass with a 60% vote, not 50 percent.
Deficits can be eliminated either by spending cuts or revenue increases, but some versions of the amendment further say that tax increases also must pass by 60%. Unless, that is, there’s a war going on in which case Congress can ignore the amendment.
Finally, the sponsor’s preferred draft of the amendment (H.J.Res.1) restricts our ability to end profiteering through privatized health care, prisons and schools by arbitrarily capping government outlays to 20% of GDP. Popular ideas such as expanding Medicare to the entire population or providing free college would suddenly become unconstitutional. Even if Congress adopted an amendment without this provision (such as H.J.Res.2 that will be voted on this week), Republicans could still force cuts in Social Security and Medicare by ramping up defense spending to require slashing in programs that both help everyday Americans and keep consumer spending from collapsing.
The balanced budget amendment is nothing but an incentive to declare war and a cynical ruse to enforce minority rule austerity on the United States. It’s a recipe for government shutdowns and financial chaos by raising the threshold for passing budgets but making it harder to resolve gridlock by using fair taxes to actually pay for what we spend. Finally, it’s a deeply unjust restriction on future generations’ ability to govern themselves through majority rule by a current generation that has elected the most financially derelict Congress in our nation’s history.
This current House vote is largely posturing, as few expect the amendment would receive the necessary two-thirds it would need to pass the Senate, let alone ratification by three-quarters of state legislatures. But this disingenuous proposal has been pushed for decades by self-serving lobby groups such as ALEC, and this vote is only part of a long-term struggle to artificially shrink our social fabric so that billionaires can be even wealthier than they already are.
Let Congress know you’ll be watching their vote and won’t fall for their mislabeled claptrap.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.