The spendthrift GOP's very unfunny balanced budget amendment joke

The spendthrift GOP's very unfunny balanced budget amendment joke
© Greg Nash

The House of Representatives just passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill which none of them read. In it, the majority party violated virtually every campaign promise they made to get elected. The things they promised to cut were fully funded, and the things they promised to fund did not get done. The level of corruption and derogation of duty is staggering. This is the reality. And apparently, this is the setup for a really good joke too.

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Soon, the very same House of Representatives is set to take up a proposal to call for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, allegedly to impose some fiscal sanity upon themselves. Because they can’t stop spending, apparently we should trust them to impose spending restraint upon themselves by passing a Balanced Budget Amendment.  

Witness, in full color, the irony that is lost on Washington, D.C. The same people who just mortgaged our future with a budget bill that looks more like it was proposed by a big government, Democratic Congress than a government with all branches controlled by Republicans, are now going to debate, and possibly pass, a recommendation that the states impose a balanced budget upon themselves. How about they just stop spending the money instead?

We all know the Senate will not pass this amendment, even if the House actually completes the joke and does so. So it’s an exercise grounded in an attempt to make voters forget that these are the same irresponsible congressmen who had no compunction about mortgaging our future. And, to make matters worse, even if they could pass such a thing out of the Congress, a Balanced Budget Amendment alone is very, very dangerous. It can have no possible effect but to crush the states even further under the burden of federal irresponsibility.

Today, the states have large portions of their budgets controlled in some way by the federal government. For example, when the federal government provides funding for roads, schools, or virtually anything, it comes with strings attached. In other words, though the states run the programs or projects, their hands are at least partially tied in the decisions they make, because they took federal funds. Additionally, the federal government has the power to impose unfunded mandates on the states. According to the National Council of State Legislatures:

“The growth of federal mandates and other costs that the federal government imposes on states and localities is one of the most serious fiscal issues confronting state and local government officials.”

So here’s the second part of the joke. If Congress were to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, and if it were to be ratified by the states, it would not remove the authority of the federal government to impose additional unfunded mandates on the states. So the so-called reform would still be at the expense of the states. Does anyone believe that the same sort of Congress that just passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill, will restrain the spending and terminate their pet projects, when they retain the legal authority to simply force that taxing and spending down to the states?

The federal government should indeed be forced to balance their budget. And such an amendment is likely necessary. But it must be part of a package of amendments coming from the states, that also limit the scope, power and jurisdiction of the federal government to do things like impose unfunded mandates. And in fact, 12 states have already proposed a convention to consider such limitations.

Congress cannot be trusted to impose the proper restraints on itself. And for them to pretend they are doing so is nothing more than a dangerous joke.

Mark Meckler is the president of Citizens for Self-Governance, founder of the Convention of States Project, and a leading constitutional grassroots activist.