By Ryan McNeely
Via Greg Sargent, we learn from The Hill this morning that in addition to their push to consider changes to the 14th amendment regarding birthright citizenship, the GOP is also planning on calling for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution after the August recess. The proposal is being spearheaded by Sens. DeMint, Graham, McCain, and Coburn.
There are a couple things to say about this, the first being that while the article describes the amendment as “the latest foray in a crusade that conservatives have waged for two decades,” this leaves out the fact that conservatives strangely declined to continue this crusade during the period when they controlled the entire federal government. Setting that aside, we see that the main thrust of this amendment is not to actually balance the budget, but rather to make it even more difficult to raise taxes:
A popular element of the amendment is the requirement of a supermajority to raise taxes.
“The point of that is so that raising taxes won’t be the default way to balance the budget,” said DeMint. “The whole idea is to cut spending.”
…A senior Senate Republican aide who works on tax policy said that creating a supermajority threshold could be part of a grand legislative compromise that emerges from the recommendations of the fiscal responsibility commission...
“I support a supermajority to raise taxes,” he said. “But to use it as leverage to agree to other tax increases, I’m not sure.”
To which I ask, if “the whole idea is to cut spending,” then why not propose spending cuts? It’s a lot easier to pass a budget than to pass a constitutional amendment. Surely, if a majority Americans are clamoring for “robust spending cuts” as DeMint claims, then the GOP would benefit in the midterms by proposing such cuts. Instead, the GOP either cannot or will not propose anything specific; rather, they continue to push for extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy without any spending offsets. That really should end any serious consideration of what this balanced budget amendment is all about.
But the larger point here is that the Republican Party is refusing to detail an actual agenda in advance of the November elections. There are plenty of things a Speaker Boehner really might do if the GOP were to regain the House majority in the fall. But instead of talking about which of those things they’ll attempt, Republican leaders continue to play to their base with notions of ACA repeal and radical changes to the constitution that require 2/3 majorities and approval of 38 states. The answer of the pundit class seems to be to sort of laugh off this talk of amending the constitution since it “won’t happen” — to which the follow-up should be, what will happen if the GOP takes over Congress? Voters should probably hear the answer before going to the polls.