Economy

Republicans Backing A Balanced Budget Amendment Refuse To Say How They’d Balance The Budget

This week, House Republicans plan to engage in some political theater, voting on a plan that would only allow the debt ceiling to be raised if a balanced budget amendment (complete with a cap on federal spending) is approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has said that the so-called “cut, cap, and balance” plan is “a solid plan for moving forward.”

However, several Republicans who back the “cut, cap, and balance” plan only seem to care about those principles in the abstract. Bloomberg asked some who support the plan what government programs they would cut in order to balance the federal budget, and they either didn’t know or refused to answer:

Hatch, a Utah Republican facing re-election in 2012, wouldn’t offer specifics on entitlement cuts or say which federal departments he would close to reach a balanced budget.

“When the time comes, I’ll name them,” said Hatch. “I don’t want to do it right now, because we have to pass that amendment.” […]

Representative Flores, a freshman Republican, said he couldn’t name specific cuts “off the top of my head.”

Identifying cuts isn’t necessary at this point, he said, because the voters aren’t “trying to get down in the weeds on where the cuts would come. They want the balanced- budget amendment.”

Asked what cuts he would make to comply with a constitutional amendment, Representative Allen West, a first-year Republican from Florida, didn’t cite specific programs yet pointed to a Government Accountability Office study earlier this year that identified “about $200 billion of duplicative and redundant government programs.”

This sounds a lot like the 2010 election campaign, where Republicans railed against government spending but then were chronically unable to name a single program that they were willing to cut.

As we’ve noted before, a balanced budget amendment would force the government to make economic downturns worse, by slashing spending when the economy needs support. Under a balanced budget amendment, the radical House Republican budget authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would be unconstitutional, as it doesn’t cut spending fast enough.

Bill Hoagland, a budget adviser to Republican leaders from 1982 to 2007, called the amendment “a political cheap shot,” while Scott Galupo, a former staffer for Boeher, has called the idea “quite simply, insane.”

Bruce Bartlett, a former economic adviser for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, noted that the amendment is a phony solution to the budget mess that allows Republicans to support a balanced budget while not having to “support anything politically unpopular.” Indeed, as the Republicans quoted above make clear, they really have no idea how they’d balance the budget; they just want it to magically balance itself.