In an interview with conservative CNSNews, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) made a revealing claim. He opposes a balanced budget amendment that doesn’t also include draconian spending caps and a provision making it nearly impossible to raise taxes:
One of the reasons I voted “no” on the debt ceiling deal is because it was supposed to be an important lever for us to get a vote on a balanced budget amendment, but they did not have first a definition for a balanced budget amendment…[that] has a supermajority [to raise taxes] and an 18 percent GDP cap in it. [...] If we pass something out of the House that’s meant as a constitutional amendment that has no heat then we have no results then it will look like we are just posturing ourselves rather than actually fixing the problem.
It’s hard to read King’s statement as anything less than an admission that he doesn’t really care whether the budget is balanced. In 1995, the House passed a true balanced budget amendment, which would have made it very difficult to enact an unbalanced budget. Had this actual balanced budget amendment been in effect in 2001, for example, the single largest driver of our present deficits — the Bush tax cuts — would have been unconstitutional. Likewise, the House GOP’s Medicare-killing budget that passed the House earlier this year also would fail under a clean balanced budget amendment because it fails to raise enough taxes to cover its costs.
Needless to say, congressional Republicans don’t like this outcome, which is why they are currently dressing up a Tea Party fantasy amendment in balanced budget amendment clothing. The so-called “balanced budget amendment” that King supports does far more than simply requiring federal spending to equal federal revenues. It makes it functionally impossible to raise taxes by imposing a two-thirds supermajority requirement — a provision closely modeled after the California anti-tax amendment that blew up that state’s finances. It would also require spending cuts so steep that it would have made Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy unconstitutional.
Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained that he supports this Tea Party amendment because it eliminates the ability of something as silly as the American people voting for candidates who don’t want Tea Party fiscal policy from actually having an impact on national policy. Rep. King’s opposition to a clean balanced budget amendment is just one more admission that Congressional Republicans don’t actually care a bit about balancing the budget — they just want to use the American people’s legitimate anxiety over our long term deficits to permanently enshrine a comprehensive Tea Party agenda in the Constitution.