For a political party that insists on the Constitution's perfection, the GOP is unusually enthusiastic about amending the document. Last week, prominent Republicans came out in favor of "revisiting" the 14th Amendment -- their signature accomplishment -- with an eye toward ending the nation's long-standing policy of birthright citizenship.
Today, The Hill reports that Senate Republicans are planning a new push this fall for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. Championed by Sens. Jim DeMint, Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and Tom Coburn, the amendment would bar the federal government from spending more than it collects in revenue each year, while also requiring a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate to raise taxes. It's very similar to California's Proposition 13, which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses for future increases on all state tax rates.
This is clearly a political ploy. As Greg Sargent notes, the proposed balanced-budget amendment polls well in states with contested Senate races. That said, in a sane world, the GOP would face withering criticism for even floating the idea of a mandatory balanced budget. With deficit spending impossible, the federal government is virtually impotent in the face of economic disaster. Indeed, without TARP or the stimulus, last year's economic crisis would have become this year's economic catastrophe; a collapsed global economy would have left billions mired in a new age of widespread misery and hardship. Not quite Mad Max, but still pretty terrible.
Even now, with the economic crisis behind us, a balanced-budget amendment would have the effect of completing the federal governments' transformation into California, where political polarization and absurd budget rules have left the state government unable to stop creeping unemployment, repair crumbling infrastructure, and assist debt-ridden local governments.
Again, I know that this is a straightforwardly political move, but the fact that it has ample support from mainstream Republicans is a sure sign that the GOP is fundamentally unserious about governing. Put another way, I'm no fan of Rep. Paul Ryan, but given a balanced-budget amendment and his plan for publicly subsidized rich people, I'd take the latter in a heartbeat.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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