Just say no to the balanced budget amendment and yes to rescissions

Just say no to the balanced budget amendment and yes to rescissions
© Greg Nash

In a clear attempt to distract conservative voter attention from the utter failure to be fiscally responsible — witness the passage less than three weeks ago of a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that creates $1 trillion deficits as far as the eye can see — House Republican leaders are banking on passage of a balanced budget amendment this week to demonstrate their commitment to fiscal discipline.

That subterfuge is offensive enough, but it gets worse. It’s the wrong balanced budget amendment. If House Republican leaders really want to demonstrate fiscal discipline, they should end this charade and instead work to pass a rescissions bill to claw back tens of billions of dollars they never should have appropriated in the first place.

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What do I mean when I say the joint resolution on the balanced budget constitutional amendment proposed by House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview MORE (R-Va.), scheduled to be considered Thursday, is the “wrong” balanced budget amendment? Simple: It contains no spending limitation provision. Goodlatte’s balanced budget amendment simply requires that in any fiscal year, federal spending cannot exceed federal revenues, unless a supermajority in both houses of Congress deems it necessary.

On its face, that sounds like a great idea. We shouldn’t spend money we don’t have. When we do, we borrow from current lenders with a promise to pay them back with taxes taken from future generations who were never asked if they’d be willing to lend the money in the first place. That’s not borrowing. That’s stealing. And it’s wrong.

But the problem with Goodlatte’s amendment is that it does nothing to prevent tax increases as a means to eliminate the deficit. As any congressional intern could tell you, there are two ways to eliminate a deficit: cut spending or raise taxes. Given Washington’s history of failure at actually cutting spending, which do you think would be more likely?

Worse, if this particular amendment were ever to be added to the Constitution, I’d be willing to bet my last dollar that some left-wing group somewhere would bring a legal challenge before a left-wing judge, demanding a tax increase to eliminate the deficit, and that judge would likely agree. So we’d end up with unelected judges dictating tax increases.

Of course, that’s not likely to happen. Why? Because this amendment will never become part of the Constitution and, even more insulting, no one in the House Republican leadership actually expects this amendment to become part of the Constitution. Even were it to win 290 votes in the House on Thursday, there’s no way it would garner 67 votes in the Senate and be ratified by 38 states.

So this is all Kabuki theater and nothing but a show vote designed to allow House Republicans to go back home and campaign on their alleged “fiscal discipline.” In other election cycles, that might have worked. But in an election cycle when Republicans have failed repeatedly to keep major campaign promises (ObamaCare repeal, anyone?), it won’t wash.

If House Republicans want to demonstrate their fiscal discipline bona fides, there’s a much better way of doing it by rescinding funds they just voted to appropriate. Under the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, the president’s power to impound appropriated funds — that is, his right to simply refuse to spend the funds — was removed and replaced with a much weaker authority to propose to Congress that certain appropriated funds be left unspent.

Those “rescissions” require positive approval by both houses of Congress within 45 days. According to reports, President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE is feeling the backlash of his signature on the omnibus bill, and wants to do something about it. His staff has been working with the staff of House majority leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble The Hill's Morning Report — Arrest of Giuliani associates triggers many questions MORE (R-Calif.) to find potential rescissions.

They could start by rescinding the $500 million appropriated for Planned Parenthood, or the $50 million appropriated to fund international family planning, or billions in foreign aid, including $200 million for promoting democracy in Europe, or the additional $2.4 billion appropriated for Community Development Block Grants, or the additional $1 billion appropriated for the transportation project grant program inaugurated by President Obama’s “stimulus” package, or, well, you get the idea.

Unlike a vote on a bad amendment that will never be added to the Constitution, a vote in support of a rescissions package could actually save real dollars right now. Republicans are heading into fall elections with a political base that’s depressed because, when it comes to spending, it appears to make no difference which party controls Congress.

If Republicans want a chance to maintain power in Washington, they have to create and take advantage of opportunities to show it makes a real difference which party is in control. Creating and passing a serious rescissions package would be a good start.

Jenny Beth Martin is chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.