Pennsylvania Congressman: Make A Balanced Budget Amendment The Price Of Preventing Government Default


Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA)

In the past, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) embraced using the must-pass debt ceiling increase to extract “concessions from the other side” on the Affordable Care Act. But in an interview with ThinkProgress, a Barletta spokesman said Tuesday that the Congressman wants House Republicans to demand something even more unlikely — enactment of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. constitution — as their price for averting a default on the national debt.

Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Barletta, noted that Barletta had made the proposal in a meeting of the House Republican Conference Tuesday morning. “He stood up to make to make the argument that we should do a Balanced Budget Amendment in exchange for the debt ceiling increase. The Congressman does not support or want to give the president a blank check without exacting controls on government spending.”

Though business leaders agree that a debt default would have a “catastrophic” effect on the economy, a growing number of House Republicans are seeking to use it as a bargaining chip and reject the notion that raising the ceiling is even essential.

In April 2011, Barletta reportedly conceded, “a Balanced Budget Amendment is a gimmick,” but co-sponsored and voted for one. In lamenting the proposal’s defeat, he said such an amendment “would have forced the government to scale back its out-of-control spending and draft its budget the same way millions of American families do each and every day.”

Of course, individuals often borrow in the short term to make investments for the long term — mortgages, lines of credits, and other sorts of loans are facts of life for millions of Americans. Few people can afford to buy their first home outright or pay for their kids to go to college out of pocket.

Indeed, like many other politicians who make this false analogy, Barletta’s own personal financial disclosure filings reveal that his own personal budget is not balanced. Barletta holds four mortgages, totaling more than $1.4 million, and holds three lines-of-credit with debts exceeding $350,000.

Some Republicans in 2011 also suggested holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to enactment of a Balanced Budget Amendment to prevent Congress from appropriating more in spending than the government receives in revenue — even in times of recession or depression. A 2011 study found that such an amendment would have doubled unemployment and put 15 million people out of work. The ultimate compromise agreed to that year included a vote on the amendment — which even the GOP-controlled House failed to pass.

Enactment of constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as well as ratification by the state legislatures of three-quarters of the nation’s states. Even if federal legislators, who have been unable to cobble together an agreement between simple majorities in the House and Senate, could find a super-majority to support such an amendment, the process of state ratification would undoubtedly take months or years — and the Treasury is expected to hit the current debt limit on October 17. Asked about how lengthy such a process could be part of any deal, Murtaugh suggested that those details would be “part of the negotiation.”