Back in May, Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty endorsed attaching a constitutional balanced budget amendment to any increase in the federal debt ceiling. The debt ceiling needs to be raised by Aug. 2 to avoid the myriad negative consequences that would occur if the U.S. winds up defaulting on some of its obligations.
The Manchester Union Leader notes yesterday that another 2012 GOP contender, former Utah Gov. and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, “has yet to formulate a comprehensive economic policy.” However, one item Huntsman ardently supports is a balanced budget amendment. During an interview with CNN, he said he would like the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations to at least “begin a very important discussion” about implementing such an amendment:
I think short term, we have the debt ceiling issue, and I believe those negotiations are going to play out right to the final hour, and I suspect we’re going to get some real cuts in exchange for meeting the needs under the debt ceiling, and probably begin a very important discussion in this country as it relates to a balanced budget amendment, which is exactly where we need to be longer term. So if you got commensurate cuts and if you got a start in terms of a discussion about the balanced budget amendment, something every governor has to deal with — that’s the most important safeguard for governors, you present a budget that’s in balance, you have to, that’s a requirement by law — I think that would be a pretty good outcome.
While he has gained a reputation as a moderate, on economic issues Huntsman is a true-blooded conservative, supporting disastrous ideas like a flat income tax. His support for having a cockamamie constitutional amendment be part of the debt ceiling discussion is right in that vein.
Not only would a balanced budget amendment take forever to pass — rendering it totally useless for the current budget debate — it would be incredibly destructive by preventing the government from running a deficit when the situation calls for it (such as now, as the country tries to recover from a financial crisis). “The amendment’s requirement that the federal government annually spend no more than it collects is, quite simply, insane. Debt in itself is not harmful, neither for governments nor for households,” wrote Scott Galupo, a former staffer for Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).
Bruce Bartlett, a former economic official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, laid out why such an amendment makes no sense (including that it would make recessions worse and be completely unenforceable) before concluding that proposing one is just a “ploy by Republicans to avoid explaining how spending should be cut or taxes raised to actually achieve budget balance.” And by trying to insert such an unrealistic idea into the debt ceiling debate, Hunstman proves how unserious he is about the undeniable need for the ceiling to go up.