Yesterday, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) — who has been serving as House Republican Conference chairman and is being touted as a possible 2012 Presidential nominee — gave what his office promoted as a “major economic speech” at the Detroit Economic Club. At the best of times, Pence has a very tenuous grasp of economic reality, but he still believes that he has the recipe for fixing the country’s long-term deficit: a spending limit amendment to the Constitution. During his speech, Pence invoked former President Reagan to promote his idea for this new constitutional amendment:
For my part, I believe the answer is a Spending Limit Amendment to the Constitution. Since World War II the federal government has operated on an average of just under 20 percent of gross domestic product. But, in the past three years, federal spending has climbed to nearly 25 percent of GDP. Left unchecked, and accounting for no new programs, federal spending will reach 50 percent of GDP by 2055. We should remember what Ronald Reagan said, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size.” We must have a mechanism that forces Washington as a whole to make the hard choices necessary to reform our nation’s addiction to big spending and unsustainable entitlements.
Pence then appeared on CNBC to reiterate his support for spending cap amendment. Watch it:
But over at Capital Gains and Games, Bruce Bartlett — who served as an economic official under both Reagan and President George H.W. Bush — blasted Pence as “not ready for prime time” because of his amendment proposition:
I just want to call attention to Pence’s ultra-gimmicky plan for dealing with the deficit: a constitutional amendment limiting federal spending to 20 percent of GDP. No need to spell out spending cuts or anything politically unpopular, just let the Constitution do all the dirty work. What a total crock.
Pence does have an awfully hard time identifying any actual spending cuts he would make in the budget, so proposing a constitutionally mandated spending cap is indeed a convenient way to pretend to be serious about the deficit without getting into actual substance. A cap like the one Pence envisions is totally unworkable for a variety of reasons, including: our imprecise GDP measurements (which would make assessing the dollar amount allowed under the cap very difficult); large and very obvious loopholes that could be exploited by Congress to circumvent the cap; and a complete lack of enforceability.
For someone who invokes the sanctity of the Constitution so often, Pence seems pretty cavalier about changing it to suit the political moment. And at the end of the day, proposing this sort of blunt budget instrument does nothing but provide Pence with a nice talking point that he can parrot to cover for his lack of actual, constructive ideas.