This Club for Growth video showing old clips of 20 Senate Democrats voicing “support” for a balanced budget amendment has been making the rounds lately. (Coincidentally, Senate Republicans have estimated that they need 20 Democrats to support the BBA in order for it to pass!)
And while the video might inspire false hope that the BBA has even the slightest chance of passing, it’s completely misleading. There are all types of balanced budget amendments, and the one Republicans have proposed would basically make certain GOP-favored economic policies constitutionally binding (spending below 18 percent of GDP, two-thirds majority approval for tax hikes). Democrats may support a balanced budget amendment, but almost certainly not that one.
As Phil Klein wrote last spring, “If you could get two-thirds support in both chambers of Congress and the support of 38 states for balancing the budget through spending cuts rather than tax increases, we wouldn’t even need to be having a debate over balancing the budget — lawmakers would just do it.”
And the BBA is more than just unnecessary, it could also complicate national security interests. Having the ability to run a deficit during wartime is critical, and the BBA would make this much more difficult. At the National Review, Rich Lowry writes:
[The BBA] allows for a waiver in fiscal years in which a declaration of war against a nation-state is in effect… We haven’t declared war on anyone since World War II. The amendment’s exception wouldn’t have accounted for the Cold War or the War on Terror, neither of which entailed declarations of war on nation-states.
Another provision allows three-fifths of Congress to waive the amendment for expenditures related to a military conflict “that causes an imminent and serious threat to national security.” If you believe the Cold War or the War on Terror qualifies, this could have led to constant exceptions from 1947 to 1991, and from 2001 to perhaps the present.
The need for constant waivers during a conflict could dangerously hinder America’s ability to respond to imminent threats. And beyond that, it’s clear these loopholes and exceptions could be manipulated in a way that could render the entire amendment meaningless. The BBA isn’t going to happen anytime soon, and that’s probably a good thing.