With a vote to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling lurking around the corner, rumor has it that Senate Republicans are going to demand a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently said that a vote on the debt limit, which is expected to be next month, would not be supported by his caucus unless "something important" - although he didn’t define what that is - is done to reign in spending.
According to Emily Miller at Human Events, it looks like "something important" will be a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment:
The Senate Republicans are preparing to tell President Obama that they want a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the Constitution passed in Congress in exchange for raising the statuary debt ceiling above $14.2 trillion.
"My hope is that we would force a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment as a condition to voting on the debt ceiling," Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) told HUMAN EVENTS. "By next week, or shortly thereafter, we will have all 47 Republicans unified behind the effort, and then begin to reach out to our Democratic colleagues."
Republicans will gain a lot of political traction if they really do demand a Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment. It will be popular among Tea Partiers and many other conservatives. In general, people are going to think Republicans are sincere about tackling the federal government's unsustainable debt. But don't be fooled.
It's a ruse.
Just say "NO" to the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA)!
First of all, they're not talking about a balanced budget, just an amendment that mandates one. More specifically, they're talking about voting on an amendment. That's it. Because neither Republicans or Democrats in Congress have the authority to amend the Constitution, a process which requires that any such proposal passed by Congress has to be ratified by 3/4 of the states. In other words, the BBA is a promise Republicans can't deliver.
Second, because the government makes up its own accounting standards, a BBA would not affect the actual national debt, because "off-budget" spending would be allowed to keep on growing.
For example, Social Security, Medicare, the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Financing Bank, federal employee retirement funds, loan guarantees and contingencies, emergency supplemental bills like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and various government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) like the Export-Import Bank, Tennessee Valley Authority, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are considered "off-budget." Congress simply pretends these spending items don't exist.
"Off-budget" accounting is a blatantly dishonest practice that allows Congress to conceal vast amounts of government spending (and activity). Nobody cites the "off-budget" books, so everything listed above (and more) is not even accounted for in the official Congressional budget. This isn't the only accounting gimmick in their bag of tricks either. Congress excels at deception.
Congress inflates tax revenues by counting "excess" money coming into Social Security (and other "trust funds") as income to off-set their spending. The federal government practices "baseline budgeting," meaning federal agencies that wish to increase their budgets by, say, 10%, but only get a 5% increase, equals a 5% budget "cut." They use timing tricks too, such as manipulating the "budget window." Another is to use delayed payments, where large payments owed to contractors by the end of the fiscal year (September 30) get paid on October 1 (the next fiscal year). Then there's advance appropriation, which provides spending for a future fiscal year without counting it in any year's budget. And of course, Congress loves them some rosy projections, allowing them to mask huge spending increases with imaginary revenues.
Because a BBA would only address the official budget (which is a bald-faced lie), it would do nothing to stop government spending and/or reduce the national debt. Even worse, a BBA would lead to more accounting fraud and deception. Just like the 18th Amendment, it would create evils and abuse far greater than what it's supposed to correct.
Politicians are addicted to spending. Because spending equals power. And politicians worship power. That's why a crackhead shows more prudence and self-restraint than 999 out of 1,000 politicians do. In other words, a BBA will not stop Congress from spending. Not even a little. Meaning a BBA will result in higher taxes!
Even if the BBA requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass tax increases, they'll get the votes. They'll tell you they had to make a "difficult choice," but showed "leadership" by making the "responsible" decision. The fawning media and punditry will then praise the "courage" and "pragmatism" of our "humble servants," who they'll proclaim did the right thing in the face of electoral consequence. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans will buy into the narrative and vote for them in the next election. And you know they will too. You've seen this movie before.
What if Congress refuses to cut spending but can't get the votes needed to raise taxes in order to balance the budget? As part of the Constitution, the courts would have to get involved.
Nevada has a constitutional balanced budget requirement with a two-thirds supermajority needed to raise taxes. In a legislative stalemate, the state Supreme Court decided the balanced budget provision superseded the two-thirds supermajority and thus, ordered the legislature to raise taxes.
Do you really think the U.S. Supreme Court would act differently? And without a legal mechanism to enforce the BBA, what's the point?
A Balanced Budget Amendment would do nothing to curb spending, entice Congress to engage in even more "off-budget" accounting fraud, and provide them (or the courts) a mandate to raise taxes.
The only way to tackle the severe budget crisis we face is to STOP CONGRESS FROM SPENDING! As Walter Williams says:
A balanced budget amendment is no protection against the growth of government and the loss of our liberties. Estimated federal tax revenue for 2011 is $2.2 trillion and federal spending is $3.8 trillion leaving us with a $1.6 trillion deficit. The budget could be balanced simply by taking more of our earnings, making us greater congressional serfs. True protection requires an amendment limiting congressional spending.
Here's an idea. Require the government to follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), freeze spending, and also freeze the national debt. Those would be genuine steps toward fiscal sanity. But don't hold your breath. Congress has no interest in genuine fiscal sanity.