The last time a Balanced Budget Amendment was attempted was in 1995, where it passed the House with 300 votes, but was struck down in the Senate. “Since that time,” Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) criticized, “our national debt has grown by over $9 trillion, including nearly $4 trillion in new debt in just the last three years.” There are a number of things that Rep. Miller is failing to neglect.
The first is the deepest economic recession since the Great Depression and the massive amounts of federal stimulus monies that were necessary to prevent the country from slipping into a true depression. The second is that the nation was on track to pay off its national debt, and its spending was low enough to create an annual surplus, in 1999 at the end of the Clinton administration. After the Congressional budget Office released that data, however, there was a run on federal dollars by lawmakers, and two wars that were paid for almost entirely on borrowed money (of which $3 trillion of that $4 trillion “new debt” is interest owed by Defense). It’s interesting to me that the fiscal hawks that are lecturing everyone about overspending is the same Party that go us into the budget mess in the first place.
The Balanced Budget Amendment, though in principle a positive force for accountability, would greatly tie the hands of the government to respond to another economic collapse in the future, and every economist worth their salt says that their will be one. The other issue with a BBA is that in the 14th amendment it explicitly states that the government’s sovereign debt will not be questioned or doubted. In other words, lawmakers can not pass legislation that might devalue American debt, or damage confidence in it, to foreign investors. That would make a Balanced Budget Amendment unconstitutional, as it attempts to control our sovereign debt by manipulating spending, which may also hinder growth from public investment.
Ultimately, a Balanced Budget Amendment may sound like a constitutional provision that would make the country more secure, but it actually poses immense risks. Public investment, whether the current short-sighted GOP wants to admit it or not, has been a cornerstone of American progress and one of the greatest attributes of our federal government. The idea that collectively American people pool their resources to help move the nation forward, investing in themselves in a big-picture way that would be largely impossible for private ventures. Occasionally it’s messy, corrupt, or wasteful, but the net benefit of such a system is evident enough that our nation has been pursuing this principle for over 200 years. Tying the federal governments’ hands at a time when widespread public investment to shore up our flagging economy would be irresponsible.