Dems changed their tune

In 1997, then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) cast a “yea” vote in favor of a balanced-budget amendment (BBA). Notably, among Democrats, he was not alone, and in fact had plenty of company.  Among the Democrat senators voting for the 1997 BBA were Tom Harkin (Iowa) — the same Tom Harkin who now calls Tea Party voters in support of cutting and capping spending and passing a balanced-budget amendment a “cult fringe” of the electorate.

With that reasoning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would be a key part of that “cult fringe” as well, since he, too, supported a balanced-budget amendment in 1997, joining liberal stalwart Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). That Harkin himself voted for the BBA should score a spot in the annals of history as perhaps the most comical example of hypocrisy by an elected official. In fact, if every sitting Democrat senator who has, at some point, gone on the record supporting a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget were to keep his or her word, the measure would, indeed, land on the president’s desk for signature or veto. But Democrats who previously expressed support for a BBA have now flip-flopped, with few, if any, being pressed by the media on the “why.” What/where are their principles? Are they abandoning them out of blind allegiance to a failed, desperate president?

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This might very well be the issue that gives the GOP a Senate majority and places a Republican in the White House, just as it was a factor in the GOP takeover of Congress in 1995 and the subsequent passage of the BBA in the House and razor-thin loss in the Senate. It’s almost a sure bet that when their poll numbers drop, many a Democrat will scramble in support of a balanced-budget amendment. A recent Fox News poll indicates 72 percent of Americans favor a BBA, including nearly three-quarters of independents, spelling trouble for President Obama and Democrats. Increasingly, Americans want to more clearly define the job parameters for Washington. Rather than naively taking a politician’s word that he or she will support a balanced budget, voters wisely would rather adopt a “trust, but verify” approach.

Democrats who fail to actively pursue a balanced-budget amendment now will not get “credit” from voters if they promise support down the road or claim or feign support late in the game in order to secure reelection. 

While Democrats, left-leaning pundits and mainstream-media types engage in name-calling and demagoguery, brushing off the recent “cut, cap and balance” measure that passed in the House by a 234-190 vote as purely “symbolic,” because it didn’t have a chance in Hades in the Senate, they are being dangerously shortsighted. As voters fully realize Democrats won’t balance a budget unless forced and will refuse to support a balanced-budget amendment (as was the case in the House this week, despite passage of “cut, cap and balance”), Americans will be more inclined to pull the lever for Republicans in 2012. 

The BBA should be a key 2012 election issue for Republicans, and the message should be one of courage, discipline and accountability. Republicans, unlike Democrats, won’t wait to support a balanced-budget amendment only grudgingly when their reelection prospects start looking grim.

One has to wonder just how many Democrats, if unburdened by Obama, would support a balanced-budget amendment like so many did in 1997. Voters might be wondering the same thing, and decide to relieve congressional Democrats and the rest of a suffering nation from that burden. But that might not be enough. While many Democrats supported BBA in 1997 and even earlier when pressured by voters and Washington Republicans, the measure fell short by only one vote. Should voters decide not to take a the risk that one too many Democrats might vote “no” again, they will opt for public servants who will embrace, fight for and vote for a balanced-budget amendment. Why elect a Democrat who needs a big push to do the right thing, when you can elect a Republican who is already out front on doing so?

The left might chide Republican efforts for a balanced-budget amendment now as “symbolic,” the product of a “cult fringe.” But polling numbers show they do so at their own peril, as support for a BBA becomes more and more mainstream.

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.