As Pat Garofalo explained earlier today, ratifying a Balanced Budget Amendment is a terrible idea that would “mandate perverse actions in the face of recessions.” And congressional Republicans took this terrible idea and made it even worse by demanding that Congress not only approve such an amendment, but that the amendment also include provisions that make it impossible to raise taxes and that require spending cuts so steep that it would have made Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy unconstitutional.
Perhaps in response to the congressional GOP’s Balance The Budget On The Backs of Seniors And The Middle-Class While Protecting Millionaires From Taxes Amendment, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) recently introduced an amendment of his own. Unfortunately, the Udall amendment includes a balanced budget provision which would prohibit stimulative deficit spending during a recession unless three-fifths of the Congress agrees to allow such spending. Nevertheless, the proposed amendment also includes an encouraging provision that would prohibit Congress from prioritizing tax cuts to millionaires over fiscal responsibility:
SECTION 6. Congress shall not pass any bill that provides a net reduction in individual income taxes for those with incomes over $1,000,000 (as may be adjusted by Congress to account for inflation) if, after enactment, total outlays would exceed total receipts in any fiscal year affected by the bill.
Had this provision been in effect in 2001, George W. Bush’s disastrous tax cut packages would have been unconstitutional, and the single largest contributor to our present deficits would never have become law:
There are very good reasons why it is not a good idea to write any kind of budgeting amendment into the Constitution. Such amendments force the courts to supervise the federal budgeting process — and courts are not exactly equipped to make these kinds of judgments.
Nevertheless, if Congress insists upon writing measures into the Constitution that help balance the budget, Section 6 of the Udall Amendment could be a good model to consider. If enacted as a standalone amendment, it would restrict the George W. Bushes of the future from blowing up the budget with reckless and unnecessary tax giveaways to the super-rich while still allowing Congress to enact essential financial stimulus in the event of a recession.