Earlier this afternoon, just 261 members of the House voted in favor of a balanced budget amendment — far fewer that the two-thirds majority necessary for the amendment to move forward. One somewhat surprising “no” vote was House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan is the House GOP’s chief Chicken Little on the deficit — Ryan spent the last two years of his life running around the country warning that the sky would fall unless we phase out Medicare and enact a long list of equally draconian budget reforms.
Yet, today, when Chicken Little had the opportunity to write a balanced budget amendment into the Constitution, he ran away screaming that the amendment wouldn’t do enough to transform the Constitution into a Tea Party fantasy:
The backstory here is that, just a few months ago, Ryan and his fellow congressional Republicans were pushing a permanent austerity amendment that would effectively lock Tea Party fiscal policy in place permanently. Among other things, amendment would make it functionally impossible to ever raise taxes, while simultaneously requiring the federal government to balance its budget entirely through spending cuts.
Were Paul Ryan’s fantasy scenario — a balanced budget achieved entirely through cuts — to actually play out, it would “throw about 15 million more people out of work, double the unemployment rate from 9 percent to approximately 18 percent, and cause the economy to shrink by about 17 percent instead of growing by an expected 2 percent.”
The amendment Ryan rejected today, by contrast, contains no provision preventing the budget from being balanced through higher taxes — possibly even on rich people! This would allow Congress to save a percentage of these jobs by shifting the cost of deficit reduction to people who can afford it, but it would not protect the interests of the very wealthiest Americans. So Ryan voted it down.
Let’s be completely clear about what this means. Given the choice between an option that would kill 15 million jobs & drive the nation into another great depression, and a different option that could kill fewer jobs but would also not guarantee that David Koch and Paris Hilton pay low taxes, the House GOP’s top budget policymaker decided that he would rather protect poor Paris and hold out for the option that would force millions of American families into utter destitution.
It’s worth noting that Paul Ryan’s own budget would not survive constitutional muster under either version of the balanced budget amendment.