The Spectacle Blog

Dangers of a “Clean” BBA

By on 7.29.11 | 5:17PM

I'm troubled by the latest developments in the debt ceiling negotiations.

There's one point that you must keep in mind for a "Clean Balanced Budget Amendment." There are actually two types. One is a BBA requiring that outlays cannot exceed revenues. However, if that's all it says, then it leaves courts with the power to order tax increases to raise taxes by judicial fiat. So at minimum, if the conservative groups supporting it want to be consistent, they still must insist on retaining the section in the current Senate BBA providing that no federal or state court has the power to order revenue increases. Otherwise there would be no political pressure to stop someone from voting to raise taxes to hold down spending, because if legislative efforts go into gridlock or stalemate (like they are this week) then life-tenured judges would intervene to order tax hikes. This would give members who wanted higher taxes but lacked the courage to vote for it to just oppose spending cuts, and then let the courts do their dirty work for them.

The power of the purse is central to Congress' role in our governmental system. The idea is that the people's representatives are the only ones who make decisions about raising taxes. So a "Clean BBA" would be even worse than the status quo if it were lacked such a block on judicial power, thereby giving courts the power to raise taxes, a power that the courts currently lack.

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