Political Animal


July 13, 2011 1:15 PM McConnell touts BBA, forgets the 1990s

By Steve Benen

We’re facing a jobs crisis, weak economic growth, and the prospect of voluntarily default, created entirely by congressional Republicans, in less than three weeks.

With this in mind, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor this morning to talk about what he considers to be really important: a constitutional amendment that has no chance of being ratified.

“The time has come for a balanced budget amendment that forces Washington to balance its books. If these debt negotiations have convinced us of anything, it’s that we can’t leave it to politicians in Washington to make the difficult decisions that they need to get our fiscal house in order. The balanced budget amendment will do that for them. Now is the moment. No more games. No more gimmicks. The Constitution must be amended to keep the government in check. We’ve tried persuasion. We’ve tried negotiations. We’re tried elections. Nothing has worked.”

What a beautiful summary of a spectacularly dumb idea.

McConnell’s pitch is beautiful in its own way. He’s come to believe that policymakers — including, apparently, himself — are no longer trustworthy with public resources. To prevent irresponsible politicians from doing what they want to do, McConnell wants a constitutional straightjacket. That McConnell decried gimmicks while touting a gimmick was just the cherry on top of an inane sundae.

Now, this would ordinarily be about the time that I mention that the balanced budget amendment is easily the worst proposed amendment since Prohibition, and has accurately been described as a “pathetic joke.” I might also note that this version of the BBA is actually worse than the old one.

But instead, I thought I’d focus on one specific part of McConnell’s pitch: the notion that “nothing has worked.”

If McConnell were right about this, we could at least have a reasonable conversation about the constitutional merits of his idea. In other words, if policymakers really had tried everything to close the budget gap, and every idea failed, leading to deficits that only went in one direction, it’d at least be the basis for a coherent debate.

But here’s the part McConnell doesn’t remember: the 1990s.

It really wasn’t that long ago — McConnell was in the Senate at the time — that the deficit didn’t exist. When Bill Clinton left office a decade ago, we not only had a large surplus, we were paying off the national debt for the first time in a generation. Those debt clocks we occasionally see? They had to be shut down — no one had ever programmed them to run backwards.

We were on track to eliminate the national debt in its entirety within just 10 years. Republicans of the Bush era — including a guy by the name of Mitch McConnell — reversed course, created huge deficits, and added several trillion dollars to the debt.

The point, though, isn’t just about blame, it’s about reminding McConnell of recent history. He’s certain that “nothing has worked,” but reality shows otherwise.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • BrianTH on July 13, 2011 1:27 PM:

    Maybe he just meant that nothing could work for long, since something like the Bush-led GOP will always come along to trash anything that was working.

  • Michael on July 13, 2011 1:27 PM:

    Shorter McConnell:

    Dear God, won't someone please stop me before I once again vote to spend money on governing the nation!


  • golack on July 13, 2011 1:38 PM:

    We'll that whole constitutional thing about paying your bills has worked so well...

  • bleh on July 13, 2011 1:41 PM:

    "history"? "reality"?

    All that stuff is just elitist librul academic fascist communism.

    Also Kenyan socialist gaymarriage.

  • Ron Byers on July 13, 2011 1:46 PM:

    McConnell's embrace of the BBA is intended to divert attnetion from his giant failure on the Debt Ceiling.

  • DAY on July 13, 2011 1:47 PM:

    While we are in an amending state of mind, how about we do away with congress itself?

    Spending can be tied to population growth and its subsets- young, disabled, aged, etc. A simple computer program can handle that, freeing the public to focus on important shit- like what kind of light bulb they should buy. . ..

  • c u n d gulag on July 13, 2011 1:49 PM:

    A Republican asking for help to control spending is like a mass murderer begging in a newspaper - "STOP ME BEFORE I KILL AGAIN!!!"

    Uhm, Mitch "Yertle the Anti-gay Gay Turtle" McConnell, we don't need a Balanced Budget Amendment.

    We need an unbalanced Congress with a huge Democratic majority for a couple of dozen years just to begin to undo the damage you and your party of vicious, violent, hateful, racist, and ignorant spendthrifts have done to this country.

  • teeoh on July 13, 2011 1:51 PM:

    "When Bill Clinton left office a decade ago, we not only had a large surplus, we were paying off the national debt for the first time in a generation."

    Republicans hate a surplus. In their minds, it's proof that we are taxed too much. They don't think ahead so that we have a rainy day fund in case there's something like Katrina that comes along.

    A surplus is what led Bush to push for those two huge tax cuts.

  • teeoh on July 13, 2011 1:53 PM:

    "When Bill Clinton left office a decade ago, we not only had a large surplus, we were paying off the national debt for the first time in a generation."

    Republicans look at a surplus as proof that we are taxed too much. They could care less about having a rainy day fund in the event that something like a Katrina comes along.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 13, 2011 1:59 PM:

    McConnell is just attempting to salvage his Tea Party bona fides with stooge-like Tea-publicans after his proposal yesterday. The guy's despicable and unfit to be a City Council member, much less the most powerful member of the minority party in the Senate.

  • zeitgeist on July 13, 2011 2:07 PM:

    but the sprinkles on top of the cherry on the inane sundae is that "elections haven't worked."

    perhaps that is Mitch's real point: sometimes those damned Democrats win. next he'll propose a Constitutional Amendment to fix that, too.

  • st john on July 13, 2011 2:30 PM:

    When does someone stand up and call the "leadership" of the Republican party Traitors and their actions Treason? They are literally threatening the health and welfare of millions of Americans, not to mention millions in other countries. They are also threatening Obama, the POTUS, who could be targetted for violence by unhinged Tea Partiers.

    The Corporations could stop this by simply writing a check to the DNC and Obama's campaign for millions of dollars and showing a copy to the Republicans, to be delivered on August 2nd, if the Debt Ceiling is not extended. If it is, they could show a similar check to the RNC as a reward for doing the "right thing" and voting for the extension. I know this is a simple answer and probably not possible, but it seems to be the only thing Republicans understand: Bribery.

  • tamiasmin on July 13, 2011 4:16 PM:

    Quite right, teeoh. As I recall, G. W. Bush argued that we had to give the surplus back to "the people who earned it" or else the government would just spend it.

    And then he proceeded to do both.

  • Snarki, child of Loki on July 13, 2011 4:19 PM:

    BBA? Well *maybe*

    That is, if they put in a strong "death penalty" provision.

    But that would be like Boner and McChinless signing their own death warrants, so they probably won't do it.

  • Joe Friday on July 13, 2011 6:15 PM:

    McConnell: "The time has come for a balanced budget amendment that forces Washington to balance its books."

    This is merely an attempt to lock in all those tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate so the Congress cannot do the will of the American people.

  • dsimond on July 14, 2011 12:25 AM:

    Once again, I ask: who will enforce a Balanced Budget Amendment? I'll keep asking until I get an answer.

    The whole point of the amendment is the assumption that Congress lacks the ability to balance the budget on its own. But then there has to be an enforcement mechanism. So who will make them do it if they can't do it themselves? The usual enforcer is the courts. Are conservatives serious about giving an unelected federal judge to make spending cuts? Or does the judge hold Congress in contempt until they pass a budget the judge deems balanced? By the time appeals are done, aren't we into the next fiscal year? The whole prospect is a legal nightmare.

    But if the courts can't enforce the amendment, then the whole exercise is a farce. Indeed, until someone answers the enforcement question, the whole BBA is a farce regardless of whether it's good policy (which it obviously isn't).

  • nono on July 14, 2011 5:40 AM:

    Dank u voor sharing.maybe zul je net als de SCHOENEN MBT.Have een mooie dag!

  • momo on October 06, 2011 5:39 AM:

    Dank u voor sharing.maybe zul je net als de uggs bestellen.Have een mooie dag!