Groups unite against balanced-budget amendment from GOP

Hundreds of labor organizations, human rights promoters and other advocacy groups are uniting to try and kill the balanced-budget amendment that Republicans plan to bring up for a vote next week.

In a letter sent to every member of Congress, the coalition of 247 organizations warned that requiring the federal government to cap and offset its annual spending is a recipe for economic disaster, particularly in lean times when the government is often the spender of last resort.

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"Demanding that policymakers cut spending and/or raise taxes, even when the economy slows, is the opposite of what is needed to stabilize a weak economy and avert recessions," the groups wrote in the July 13 letter.

"Such steps would risk tipping a faltering economy into recession or worsening an ongoing downturn, costing large numbers of jobs while blocking worthy investments to stimulate jobs and growth and address the nation’s urgent needs in infrastructure and other areas."

Groups signing the letter include the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal policy shop.

Sponsored by GOP Reps. Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Joe Walsh (Ill.), the Republicans' balanced-budget proposal consists of three central provisions. First, it would require Congress to pass a balanced budget each fiscal year. Second, it would cap federal spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product. And third, it would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers to increase taxes, and a three-fifths majority to raise the debt ceiling.

Supporters say it's necessary to rein in soaring deficits and chip away at the nation's $14.3 trillion debt.

"When you are preparing a budget for your family, you know that you can’t spend more than you take in. It’s a simple concept but one that Congress has failed to adhere to for far too long," Goodlatte said this week in a statement. "A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is the only way to ensure that Congress curtails its spending on an annual basis regardless of which party is in control."

The votes arrive as bipartisan leaders continue to joust over the details of a deficit-reduction strategy to accompany a debt-ceiling increase. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that the balanced-budget amendment would complement such a package by helping to "ensure such spending restraints are set in stone."

"We need to get serious about changing the way we spend money here in Washington," Boehner said in a video message. "And implementing long-term reforms, like the balanced-budget amendment, will make sure we never again face a debt crisis like we do today."

Critics warn, however, that capping spending would have a negative effect on both discretionary and entitlement programs — not to mention the people who benefit from them. 

"In short, this amendment is a recipe for making recessions more frequent, longer, and deeper, while requiring severe cuts that would harshly affect seniors, children, veterans, people with disabilities, homeland security activities, public safety, environmental protection, education and medical research," the 247 groups wrote. 

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"It would almost certainly necessitate massive cuts to vital programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and other programs." 

Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on a balanced-budget amendment next week.