The question is how to solve our problem of unsustainable debt.
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But suppose Congress wimps out and enacts a BBA without teeth. Would such a symbolic victory be worth anything? The answer again is clearly yes. Almost every state has some form of a balanced budget requirement in its constitution or law. The fact is that balanced budget requirements actually do work at the state level. This strongly suggests they would work at the federal level as well.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS, even symbolic ones, set the agenda of political debate. The Second and Tenth Amendments clearly do that in the U.S. today, even though the federal courts almost never enforce them. A BBA would work very much the same way.
The case for a BBA is so powerful that Germany and Switzerland — both models of fiscal sobriety — actually require a balanced budget in their own constitutions. And now Germany and France have actually proposed requiring that all Eurozone countries amend their national constitutions to require a balanced budget. What is good enough for almost every state in the Union and for many countries of Europe is certainly worth trying at the federal level here.
So what harm could come from enacting a BBA to the U.S. Constitution? Is there any argument against such an amendment that outweighs the arguments in favor of it?
One concern conservatives have is that it might lead to tax increases. I share that concern and therefore would couple it with a super-majority requirement for tax increases. That should make a BBA clearly appealing to conservatives of all stripes. But what if such an amendment gets ratified that does not protect against tax increases? Would we then be worse off?
I think the answer is no. It is harder politically for Congress to tax real people living today than it is to borrow money from the children and grandchildren of the silent majority. People living today will mobilize in many ways against tax increases. The correct solution is to cut, cap, and balance, but I would not let concerns about tax increases stop us from doing what virtually every state constitution does.
Another real concern for conservatives is that a BBA could lead to dangerous cuts in spending on national defense. This concern I share. The U.S. is a world leader and the greatest force for liberty and economic opportunity in history. We must always be ready to defend liberty worldwide.
The problem is, however, that current levels of deficit spending — almost half of which is financed by foreign countries — is itself a threat to U.S. global might. We simply cannot defend liberty in Asia, for example, if we continue to borrow massively from the Chinese. We cannot defend freedom in Arab countries while being so dependent on Saudi Arabia and others for imported oil and purchases of our debt. The status quo is at least as threatening to America’s military might as is living under a BBA, for the status quo is not sustainable.
Finally, some conservatives argue that the solution to congressional deficit spending is a line item veto amendment giving the president the same power over spending enjoyed by a majority of state governors. I am quite skeptical about such an amendment because of the enormous power it would shift from Congress to the president. Imagine for a moment that President Obama could threaten senators or representatives with line item vetoes of locally important spending projects unless they voted his way on socialized medicine. Or on a card check law reform making it easy to fraudulently form a union. Do we really want to cede that much power from Congress to the president? I do not think so.
In sum, we need to cut, cap, and balance. To do that permanently, we must enact a BBA. Nothing less than the future of government of the people, by the people, and for the people is at stake.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?