Why Democrats Hate a Balanced Budget Amendment

My latest piece, “Why Democrats Hate a Balanced Budget Amendment” was just published at BigGovernment.com.  You can read my piece about the struggle for a Balanced Budget Amendment at their site or you can read it in its entirety below:

WHY DEMOCRATS HATE A BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT

By Peter Frank

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2011/07/26/Why-Democrats-Hate-a-Balanced-Budget-Amendment

With Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nv.) leading the charge that killed the Cut, Cap and Balance Act(it apparently was the “worst piece of legislation” he’d ever seen), and a new deal to break the impasse over raising the debt ceiling looming, it’s appropriate to ask why Democrats hate the idea of a balanced budget amendment.

Americans are forced each day to live with a balanced budget – families can only spend more than their income for a short time without ultimately going into default. Firms in a private market must live with a balanced budget or they’ll quickly exit industry.

So, why do Democrats hate the idea of a balanced budget amendment? Such an amendment would force Congress to spend within its means. What’s the problem with forcing expenses and revenue to equal each other? It seems to make sense in the absence of some mechanism (like profits and losses in the private market) to incentivize a prudent use of resources, that politicians should be bound to spend within their means.

It’s not that Democrats don’t believe in fiscal discretion or think there are no consequences to amassing a massive debt for future generations to pay. President Obama has repeatedly stated that deficit reduction is a priority, and he favors a “big deal” to both raise the debt limit and reduce spending by billions. Democrats in Congress have supported these goals of working hard to reduce the deficit over the next decade. Listening to lawmakers speak about their desire to cut spending, one would expect wide-spread bipartisan support for a balanced budget amendment.

Not so fast.

The bottom line for Democrats is that a constitutional law forcing spending and revenue to equate signifies a massive loss of political power. Democrats in Congress claim that a balanced budget will devastate the economy because they will not have the ability to spend discretionary dollars whenever they see fit (i.e. when they deem it necessary for the economy). House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) said they he wouldn’t support it because it would “make it virtually impossible to raise revenue” (i.e. taxes). I’ll let Michelle Malkin handle the fallacies in Hoyer’s reasoning.

Democrats refuse, no matter how fiscally wise, to give up the substantial power that comes with spending taxpayer (and borrowed) dollars. The President and Congressional Democrats want to solve the deficit problem by cutting future program spending while raising the debt ceiling in order to save America from default. Imagine trying to encourage a teenager to pay off his first credit card by increasing the loan limit and telling him that in the future he’ll have to buy fewer clothes. It just doesn’t make sense.

The problem with the Democrats approach is that it fails to force future lawmakers to live within a budget and to provide any long-term incentive to align spending with revenue. The answer is a balanced budget amendment, yet Democrats are unwilling to cede their unmitigated spending power. They’d rather raise the debt ceiling to keep their power safe. The recent financial crisis and the subsequent economic downturn shows exactly how billions of dollars are spent based on congressional “insight,” with little effect.

The problem of knowing where to spend, when to spend, and how much to spend is a problem that is appears unsolvable inside the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

We can expect the many newly elected Republicans in the House to continue trying to limit the power of government (and their power to spend). Limiting power is a tough sell in Washington today, especially when Democrats are looking to swing the election victory pendulum back in their corner.

Is It Time to Make a Deal?

With the debate intensifying over raising the debt limit and cutting federal spending, all eyes are on the GOP.  Many conservatives are arguing that Republicans must give in to President Obama’s desire for elimination of tax loopholes on corporate taxpayers and other reforms that could raise taxes on the American people.  The mantra of the Republications is quite simple: spending is the problem and there is no need for revenue increases (read tax hikes).

Democrats on the other hand claim that certain programs are untouchable such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Thus, the proposals outlined to cut $2-4 trillion from the Federal budget over the next decade must leave these entitlements alone.  These conflicting philosophical positions continue to arise: cutting spending and the size of government alone or continue the course by raising more revenue?  Should Congress agree to spending cuts AND tax increases in order to make a deal and act before the August 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling?  David Brooks of the New York Times  recently wrote cutting a deal is the “mother of all no-brainers.”  Others are claiming that certainly the wealthiest Americans can afford tax increases (yet these increases are always couched as “allowing the Bush tax cuts expire”).  Consequently, the debate ensues and each side, Republicans and Democrats alike, are blaming each other for the pending default if a deal on the debt ceiling is not reached.

Again Americans are experiencing the tension between politics and economics that is as familiar as a thunderstorm on a hot summer evening.  The political process creates incentives for spending and compromise while the economics reflects an unsustainable budget shortfall that has implications that are not fully known.  The easy solution is to make a deal, raise the debt limit, and spend tax payer and borrowed dollars to oblivion.  Thus, the debate is one of principles that are on very different poles: limited government and incentives push to market participants versus government solutions to basic economic problems with little to discipline political actors.

The debt ceiling is the only tool left that provides for the possibility of fiscal discipline by politicians.  In the past, raising the debt ceiling has been a relatively simple policy option for a spendthrift Congress.  Yet, with the election of conservative Republicans in November 2010 there is a new push toward actually maintaining a principled position regardless of the political cost.  Many Republicans see this issue as that is, spending billions over budget, controlled by special interests, and taking control of the very market incentives that drive economic growth.  Why should high income earners pay higher tax rates (either via marginal rate increases or lost deductions) simply to fund programs that are inefficiently administered via the federal government?  Or to put it more clearly, why are Democrats set on maintaining or growing the current federal budget?

These are the questions that must be asked long before the question of “should the Republicans make a deal?”  According to those close to the debate, the big concern is that failing to raise the debt ceiling could likely lead to skyrocketing interest rates and a plummeting dollar.  Hence, the President and his party are characterizing the Republicans as willing to sacrifice economic stability for wealthy tax breaks.  Once again, this myopic view of the economy is endemic within the political process.  Obama is looking to the 2012 campaign and many in Congress are doing the same, yet the discussion of core principles must remain in this debate.  Any compromise at this point, as obvious as it may seem to some, is tantamount to once again throwing away all the economics for politics alone.  In congressional districts throughout the county, a majority of voters spoke loudly last November saying that they wanted a principled position on tax and spend policies to re-enter the political process.  Many Americans are tired of the bickering over billions when they have made significant cuts in their own budgets.  It is time for Congress to stop pandering to the few and start worrying about spending less for the entire country.