I’m inherently skeptical of any political strategy that involves amending the Constitution, especially as a way of dealing with a controversial issue. Republicans frequently use conservative constitutional amendments as a way of looking like they are doing something on an issue they actually plan to do nothing about. So I can’t say I’m terribly impressed by the congressional GOP’s push for a balanced budget amendment.
Some form of balanced budget amendment would be an important structural reform of the country’s fiscal policy, and the amendment being touted by the “Cut, Cap and Balance” Republicans is much tougher than the versions that failed in the 1990s. But to do anything meaningful, a balanced budget amendment would have to be more than voted on. It would have to be approved by two-thirds of Congress and ratified by the states.
That’s a tall order. The Constitution has only been amended 28 times, counting the Bill of Rights (and not counting judicial amendment of the Constitution or the precedents set by a long history of bipartisan unconstitutional activity). If a BBA got close to passing, expect all the demagoguery currently directed at the Ryan plan — which would be unconstitutional under such an amendment — to be thrown at this measure. Nevertheless, a vote on a balanced budget amendment that is either unsuccessful or doesn’t appear likely to be followed by ratification would be a questionable concession in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.