Monday, July 11, 2011

Why I Dislike Balanced Budget Amendments

Welcome to Tony Island Blog!

While you would think that a right-leaning blog such as Tony Island Blog would whole-heartedly support a "balanced budget amendment", in this case, you would be wrong.

I am currently reading a book (review forthcoming) that, among many issues, outlines and supports a balanced budget amendment ("BBA"). There are eleven sections (when the book was published) to this proposed amendment, some of which contain definitions of various terms used in the amendment. While the idea of a balanced budget amendment gives my heart the "warm fuzzies", my logical head tells me it's not the way to go.

So, without further ado:

Here are my 5 reasons against any constitutional balanced budget amendment:

1) The Constitution should not be filled with economic amendments - Our Constitution elegantly outlines our (limited) form of government. It doesn't contain economic theories or definitions and neither should any proposed amendment. Just like the Prohibition amendment was an embarassment  to the Constitution (morality should NOT be part of the Constitution), so would a balanced budget amendment.

2) Constitutional Amendments should not contain "escape" clauses - The proposed BBA, like similar efforts, has an escape clause to allow deficit spending in case of declared war (other BBAs allow deficit spending during recessions). What does this tell us about the amendment itself and our political leaders if we need an "escape" clause? Imagine if our Founding Fathers put an escape clause in the First Amendment? Or how about in the succession of the President? Or any other part of the Constitution? So why would we pass any amendment that contains an escape clause?

3) Constitutional Amendments should not contain man-made measurements - The proposed BBA contains a provision to cap total government spending to 18% of GDP. The problem with this is who determines GDP? Perhaps one of the sections defines GDP, but it's all too easy to expand (or contract) GDP to suit the political needs of either the Congress or President in power. Constitutional amendments should have wording that is enduring, not based on some sort of man-made measurement.

4) Constitutional Amendments should not contain binding or easily overridden provisions - One of the provisions of the proposed BBA is a three-fifths vote requirement to raise the debt ceiling. While this sounds like a "tough" hurdle to overcome (and it may well be, which is its intent), it could also be a tightly binding provision that could bite us in the ass during a "real" emergency. What if the US Congress were attacked while it was in session and 50% of the Congress were injured or dead. How then do you increase the debt limit? Do the living (but injured) Congressmen now constitute "Congress"? Do the dead Congressmen negate the ability to have a three-fifths vote to raise the debt? What's to prevent Congress, minutes before the final vote which would make the BBA law, from passing a one-time $560 trillion(or any other outrageously high number) debt limit thus effectively eliminating the need to vote to increase the limit under the new Amendment's debt increase provision? What if the Congress were to eliminate the "debt ceiling" all together?

5) Constitutional Amendments should not be unenforceable - My biggest problem with a BBA is the inability to enforce it. How do you jail 535 Congressmen if they don't follow the letter of the law? There are absolutely no provisions in this or any BBA to have enforcing legislation. I don't know what kind of self-enforcing could be built-in (perhaps the President could dismiss the Congress and call for new elections? That would open a can of unimaginable worms), but without it, the BBA becomes a toothless tiger. We already have trampled the Constitution. Why then would we add a BBA that was laughably unenforceable? That would only further erode our system of government and society. We're doing enough damage without the need for a BBA to hasten such damage.

Well, there you have it - my 5 reasons against any BBA. Do you agree? Disagree? I love a good debate - open my mind by posting a comment below.

Thanks for reading Tony Island Blog!

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