Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 1, 2011

THE DUMBEST PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT OF ALL TIME.... Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other top GOP leaders sent out a message to every Republican in the chamber: GOP senators will be expected to endorse a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget. No exceptions.

As of yesterday, the demands were successful -- literally everyone in the 47-member Senate Republican caucus signed on as co-sponsors of the truly ridiculous Balanced Budget Amendment.

The last time the BBA reached the Senate floor, 14 years ago, it came literally just one vote shy of passing. This time, proponents hope enormous deficits, combined with public confusion, have created a more favorable environment.

Indeed, this version of the BBA is even more ambitious -- and more absurd -- than its predecessors. The federal budget would not only have to be balanced, but it would be written into constitutional stone that spending couldn't exceed 18% of GDP without two-thirds supermajorities.

Bruce Bartlett has explained, more than once, why this little gimmick would be a dreadful mistake, but he revisited the issue yesterday, calling the latest version of the Republican plan "mind boggling in its insanity."

In short, this is quite possibly the stupidest constitutional amendment I think I have ever seen. It looks like it was drafted by a couple of interns on the back of a napkin. Every senator cosponsoring this POS should be ashamed of themselves.

Again, that's a group that includes literally every Republican senator, including the so-called moderates who are presumed to be sane.

Jonathan Bernstein also had a worthwhile piece on this, calling the BBA a "pathetic joke of an amendment," which would very likely make the deficit worse, not better. In apparent reference to the entire Senate GOP caucus, Jonathan concluded, "Any politician who peddles this junk is either a fool or a scam artist."

I'd just add one related thought. The whole idea of the BBA offends me because it's such a cheap cop-out. Policymakers who want to balance the budget can put together a plan to balance the budget. It's hard work, of course, but those who take this goal seriously can put in the effort and craft a plan.

But they don't want to. They don't want to draft a plan to balance the budget, they want a constitutional gimmick that will mandate a policy goal they can't figure out how to accomplish on their own. Instead of effort and intellectual honesty, Senate Republicans prefer the easy way out (which as Jonathan explained, wouldn't really work anyway).

In other words, those who want a balanced budget amendment should make plain how they'd balance the budget. Otherwise, the scheme is just a silly, cynical charade.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Proposed Balanced Budget amendments have all been either: (1) obviously ineffective, or (2) would have caused us to lose World War II. This one manages both.

Posted by: rea on April 1, 2011 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Everything the Republicans do is a silly cynical charade, and their base seems to like it that way, so why should they change.

Posted by: rip on April 1, 2011 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Once again, California leads the country.

It's this kind of budgetary thinking that has landed California in the ongoing mess in which it's mired.

Conservatives really do subscribe to the rule: "I've got mine. Fuck you." Great policy prescription, isn't it?

Posted by: LL on April 1, 2011 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

"Any politician who peddles this junk is either a fool or a scam artist."

This sums up the entire repiglican party, and the 'fool' part about 40 percent of our electorate. They are simply corporate pimps, buffoons all.. and, of course , our corporate media serves as a megaphone for this utter stupidity .. and they get paid millions to do so ...

Posted by: stormskies on April 1, 2011 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Nice bit of political theater Republicans can use in their campaign ads as CYA against all the loons that make up their base.

Posted by: June on April 1, 2011 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

"...without two-thirds supermajorities."

Because that worked out SOOOOOO well in California when it came to their economy regarding increasing taxes!

Look, lies and cheap gimmicks are all the Conservatives have.

It would be nice if our MSM just kind of laughed and called them out on it.

But, compared to some candle-bright intellects in our MSM, some of the dim bulbs in the House and Senate seem like search lights.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 1, 2011 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

This sounds like a plan to eliminate the Pentagon to me.

Posted by: tom on April 1, 2011 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

"Otherwise, the scheme is just a silly, cynical charade."

That is all they've got, apparently. Is there an IQ deficit in the GOP? I'm beginning to wonder if they have ANYONE at all who is competent, intelligent, serious, and well-meaning.

Or if each and every one of them has bought into or has been bought out by the Koch Brothers' fantasy of a purely capitalist utopia in which only the well to do have power and everyone else is literally superfluous?

If so, then they really don't believe that numbers of voters can make any difference at all. After all, as Wall Street once told the NTY, "To us, one dollar=one vote."

Posted by: jjm on April 1, 2011 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Reagan raised FICA taxes to make it possible to lower income taxes at the highest income levels. Now the Republicans want to use fiscal responsibility to argue that we should not keep our promises to those who were paying the new higher rates. Again, the purpose is to protect the reductions in taxes for the highest income earners, and especially those who get a lot of capital gains. The short version of their logic is "let the workers pay for it."

Posted by: Danp on April 1, 2011 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

jjm, it's all a matter of what you mean by competent: they are very competent at pandering. they are exceptionally competent at dimwitted sloganeering. they are outrageously competent at voting in lockstep.

they're just not competent in thinking.

as for the ammendment itself, what makes bruce bartlett so sure that a couple of interns didn't bang it out on the back of a napkin? that is the gop approach to policymaking, innit?

Posted by: howard on April 1, 2011 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

@LL and Gulag

I heard that. As a resident of CA, this state boggles me. A mecca of Progressives, with so much going for it in every single way. But a legislature even more dysfunctional than the one in DC.

The 2/3 Majority rule is horrifyingly dangerous and stupid.

I love California as I have never loved any other place (Navy Brat, so I've lived all over), especially the Wine Country where I make my home. But jeez our state government is insane. Doesn't even matter how we vote, it all just keeps getting worse.

Posted by: Mitch on April 1, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

I have a new proposal to amend the amendment: DoD budgets cannot exceed, oh...let's say 1% of GDP unless Congress unanimously approves increased spending.

Posted by: Todd for VT House on April 1, 2011 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Balanced Budget Amendment. It's another code word and rallying cry for the tea partiers in 2012. Enough said.

Posted by: pol on April 1, 2011 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

We could also subject other important things to supermajorities:

* Abortion will be freely available through the 2nd trimester so long as women get 2/3 of Congress to approve.

* Flag burning will be legal with 2/3 approval.

* Democratic presidents can launch military operations with prior approval of 2/3 of Congress; Republican presidents can do so with up to 2/3 disapproval.

Posted by: Todd for VT House on April 1, 2011 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK


"competent, intelligent, serious, and well-meaning"

I think it's an either/or thing with them. The competent and intelligent ones are evil (think Karl Rove), the serious ones are incompetent (Bachman is at least serious from her own POV, haha), and the well-meaning ones are the voting public, who believe that libertarianism and conservatism are morally correct, but aren't educated about the reality of the situation and so are neither intelligent nor competent.

Even the theocrats (my least favorite of the bunch) genuinely believe that they are trying to make the world better.

Of course, we all know what the saying is about good intentions.

It makes excellent pavement, with not a pothole in sight.

Posted by: Mitch on April 1, 2011 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I have a Constitutional Amendment!

A corporation is not a citizen or a person and does not have any of the rights or protections accorded to persons or citizens of or within the United States. This applies equally to any foreign entity or corporation or anything that is not a human person.

Propose this in every state and let every Republican explain why he's voting against it.

Posted by: cld on April 1, 2011 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Bruce Bartlett has explained, more than once

Would this be the same Bruce Bartlett who worked in Bush's Treasury department?

Posted by: Danp on April 1, 2011 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Just keep spending...just keep spending...

It seems to me this is the definition of insanity.

Posted by: orwell on April 1, 2011 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

This so OFFENDS me...not because I agree with Bartlett but because it is SUCH a cheap trick. The GOP spent and spent and spent and borrowed and borrowed and borrowed but want to try to erase the memory of the American people that they DID this. The REASON Obama's budget is so high is cleaning up THEIR mess, straightening out the economy and paying gazillions on the debt. They want Obama BLAMED for all excesses of the last 16 years. And then call themselves AMERICANS...I spit on them.

Posted by: SYSPROG on April 1, 2011 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

I believe that there might be enough democratic votes in both houses to meet the two thirds requirements for an amendment. Whether or not three fourths of the stated would vote for it is tough to predict. They have all just gone through excruciating exercises to balance their budgets and most of them know how much more difficult to would be without federal funds coming in. Opponents of the amendment should make it clear to the states that federal support to the states would be one of the first things to go.

Posted by: wordtypist on April 1, 2011 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Inasmuch as the Bush Administration ran TWO wars off budget, won't this amendment just lead to even more cheating? I know the Repubs love to cheat, could it be they just want it to be Constitutionalized?

Posted by: martin on April 1, 2011 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

It is not just DANGEROUS and STUPID. It is ANTIMAJORITARIAN and thus fundamentally anti democratic and un-American! Now that the political stooges of the ultra rich minority are winning the culture war against the middle class and working people in this country they plan to rig the fundamental rules of Constituional government to freeze their theft in place so never again can the majority rectify the balance between the most of us and the few of us. And the DUMBASS TEABAGGERS continue to serve these evil masters! Michele Bachman is like the female robot in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis".

Posted by: robert on April 1, 2011 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are anxious to make the American Democracy a fascist/ communist government as determined and desired by the KOCH BROS dictator gangsters. Mitch McConnell has apparently sold his soul to the satan of fascism to stay in CONGRESS. Mitchell should be tried for TREASON for not following the US CONSTITUTION that he swore to uphold but the desires and $$$$ of the KOCH BROS Dictators.

Posted by: MLJohnston on April 1, 2011 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

So, if this amendment is passed would it be another unfunded mandate?

Posted by: Bobby on April 1, 2011 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

As with previous versions, there is a huge question as to how a balanced budget amendment would be enforced. The whole premise of the amendment is that Congress lacks the will to balance the budget on its own. But if Congress can't do it, who will make them do it?

Usually, it's the courts. Prior versions of the BBA have been silent on this issue. This one says that no court can raise revenue to enforce it (http://www.scribd.com/doc/52020805/GOP-Balanced-Budget-Amendment-Text). So does that mean a judge can unilaterally cut spending wherever that judge sees fit? Or hold Congress in contempt until Congress fixes the problem? Do conservatives really think it's a good idea to give an unelected and unaccountable federal judge that much power? The idea is preposterous. Add to that whether judges are qualified to determine whether a budget is "balanced," the time it would take to litigate the issue, the appeals process...it's all truly ludicrous.

But that's what passes for so-called fiscal discipline these days. Either they really believe this stuff, or it's cynical posturing. Both alternatives are so absurd that I have great difficulty deciding between the two.

Posted by: dsimon on April 1, 2011 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

To put a finer point on rip's comment above - The GOP IS a silly, cynical charade!

Posted by: Sam Simple on April 1, 2011 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

danp, just so you don't embarass yourself: bruce bartlett did work for bush 41. so what? when he worked for bush 41 is when bush agreed to, you know, raise taxes against republican orthodoxy.

in addition, bartlett was fired by the national center for policy analysis, a conservative think tank, for his sustained criticism of bush 43.

bruce bartlett is one of the very few honest conservative economists out there. he should be treasured, not dissed by people who don't know what they're talking about.

Posted by: howard on April 1, 2011 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

It looks like it was drafted by a couple of interns on the back of a napkin. -- Bartlett

A *used* "napkin", and not even an American one. Try the British usage (also known as "nappy"); even our poopie-doodie troll might approve :)

Posted by: exlibra on April 1, 2011 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Wonder if the republitoopids will follow Dubya's lead and not count most of the items that add to the national debt until some toopid dem gets in and then blame the dems for the additional debt with the economy going down the sewer?

Posted by: Schtick on April 1, 2011 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

"In other words, those who want a balanced budget amendment should make plain how they'd balance the budget." Steve Benen

If the Republican/Teabaggers did THAT, I seriously doubt they'd ever be elected to ANY political office again! I thought the Republican/Teabaggers were the party of personal responsibility? Doesn't refusing to carry out one's oath of office qualify one as being IR-responsible?
Perhaps the GOP needs to adopt the following as their motto: "Stop me before I spend again!"

Posted by: Doug on April 1, 2011 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

This is just another RightWing scam to lock-in the egregious tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate.

Posted by: Joe Friday on April 1, 2011 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

SYSPROG: Exactly. Three fourths (? just guessing) of the current debt was rung up by Reagan and particularly Bush II. Not that Mr. President We-Don't-Want-to-Dwell-on-the-Past has ever explained that to the Americun Peeble. If we had been good Keynsians, we would have had a bunch of money in the bank to blow on the recent financial/economy meltdown.

I guess that if the Republicans had actually managed to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment the first time, they would have pulled the same stunt they did anyway with Iraq funding: "It's not deficit spending, it's off budget, it doesn't count, were just pulling billions out of our ass or something." I never did get how they got away with that before. I guess it just didn't stand out amongst all the lies and manipulations.

Posted by: emjayay on April 1, 2011 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK



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