Is A Balanced Budget Amendment A Bad Deal For Republicans?

Conservatives should remember, as Byron York points out, that raising the national debt cap is a given. The question is what Republicans can leverage out of Democrats in exchange for going along with raising the cap.

May conservatives such as Senators Rand Paul and Jim DeMint want a balanced budget amendment in exchange for their votes with DeMint going so far as to say that he’ll filibuster an increase unless a BBA is passed too.

But would a BBA be a good bargain for Republicans in exchange for raising the debt cap? Ed Morrissey writing at The Week says no.

Here are his points:

1) Constitutional amendments are hard to do, and take years to pass. Even if it gets through Congress this year, it must be ratified by the various state legislatures which will take additional years.

2) Even if the amendment passes, and the government must begin matching expenditures to revenues, the largest part of our national expenditures is entitlements. As Morrissey points out, even if we eliminated every penny of discretionary spending in the budget we’d still be left with a deficit well over $300 billion from entitlement spending alone.

In summary, Morrissey argues that a BBA wouldn’t have the effect of law until years from now even if the stars align and it passes, and that even after it passes we’ll still be forced with doing something about entitlements. And Morrissey argues that “something” will likely be tax hikes.

I’d point out that the BBA being supported by Senators Rand Paul and Jim DeMint would require a 2/3’s majority to pass tax hikes, but his other points are well taken. We need spending reform now, not years from now, and there are no assurances that the states (always hungry for federal money) will ratify a BBA.

That being said, what other choices are there? Morrissey says Republicans should make entitlement spending reform their price tag for raising the national debt instead of a BBA. That might make sense, but if a BBA were to pass wouldn’t it force the hand of politicians who, if left to their own devices, would do nothing about entitlement spending?

What’s really gumming up the works is the shallow, immature politics that surround entitlements. Anyone suggesting any sort of entitlement reform that reduces outlays for the programs is immediately vilified as one who hates the sick, the children and the elderly. The opponents of entitlement reform, generally, behave themselves like spoiled children in a toy store being told they can’t have a new dolly.

Tackling the issue is political kryptonite.

Constitutional amendment or not, I don’t think we can fix the entitlements problem until we start acting like adults as a nation.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Jeffrey Whelchel

    One of the balanced budget amendments includes a cap on spending at 18% of GDP. It wouldn’t immediately fix the budget because of the issues you put forth, but on ratification would force the Feds to make serious changes.

    I think it would go a long way toward putting the ship on the correct course. However, without the spending cap, a BBA would be horrible. It wouldn’t limit spending at all. Instead it would be a ticket to force higher and higher taxes on all of us & the excuse would be they have to in order to balance the budget. Make sure you support the correct version WITH a spending cap.

  • robert108

    I agree with everything you say here, but it should be added that a balanced budget is meaningless without a tax rate cap. Otherwise, it would be a license to jack up taxes to pay for wasteful govt spending, and nothing more.

    • Rob

      That’s a good point. To be fair, the BBA does require 2/3’s majority to raise taxes.

      Jeff up above suggests that we should cap spending at 18% of GDP. Historically, 18% of GDP is about all we’ve ever been able to collect in revenues, so why not cap revenues at the same spot?

      • robert108

        Revenues vary, and there is a time lag. My approach is that a total tax rate above 20% yields diminishing marginal returns, while raising the overhead cost of tax collection. Besides, being able to keep 80% of what I earn seems to be right. What can govt do that’s worth more than a fifth of my income?

        • NDSuperman

          Isn’t it a shame that this is what the argument has come to?

          Imagine a thief comes to your house with a gun and steals 20% of your shit. Obviously a crime. However, now imagine that same thief has an agent of government instead of a gun. Not a crime (and they will do it again next year). Is it any less immoral?

  • Marty from North Dakota

    It is well documented that millionaires and billionaires get subsidy checks from the federal government. Even Republicans can agree, we’re sure, that this is wrong and must be stopped. Yet, there is no news on this or the fat cake eaten by military. How come?

    • robert108

      Maybe you don’t know the definition of “subsidy”. National defense is one of the few Constitutional reasons for the govt to spend our money.

      • Jamermorrow

        It is still theft like all taxation. It is still wealth redistribution.

        • robert108

          It’s not theft if it’s for the legitimate expenses of govt, like national defense, maintaining a stable currency and enforcement of contracts. You over-generalize. Only social programs are wealth redistribution.

  • Dakota_mel

    I think Ed Morrissey has a point. I would be willing to trade the debt ceiling for a BBA, but my biggest concern is that by the time a BBA passes it will be tamed down so that it doesn’t control the tax increases. Even with the 2/3 required now, I don’t trust the Republicans not to cave. And, if we ever end up with a super mjaority of Dems in Congess again, the BBA will be meaningless – actually, it will be a license to raise taxes.

    On the other hand, if we go for entitlement reforms in exchange, we’ll be accused of holding seniors and poor people hostage. I want to fight for entitlement reform, but I’d rather do it on the merits of the proposals and not as a bargaining chip. I believe we have the upper hand with Ryan’s budget proposal and trading for a raise in the debt ceiling will muddy the waters.

  • borborygmi

    “Is A Balanced Budget Amendment A Bad Deal For Republicans?”
    Isn’t this the wrong question. Shouldn’t the question be : Is A Balanced Budget Amendment a good deal for America?
    The headline shows what type of BullSh!t is coming from Conservatives when you claim the survival of the United States is your objective… Power to Conservatives and the Republican Party are your true objectives.
    So let’s answer the real question ;Is A Balanced Budget Amendment a good deal for America?
    My answer is a plain and simple yes.

    • robert108

      Only Republicans care about maintaining our Republic. The rest are Marxists who want to institute their foolish dreams of a utopia by equalizing outcomes.

      • borborygmi

        Balance budget amendment good for the Republic?

        • robert108

          Are you confused? The lefties want to destroy our Republic.

          • borborygmi

            Rand Paul and Jim Demint are Liberals? BBA good for America?

  • LastBestHope


    All big governments, all levels, all branches and all agencies are motivated primarily by fear. Making a mistake of omission or commission is more scary to a government official than a bullet coming straight for their nose. An attorney for an injured party or any of the many venues of news media discovering a simple one-time lapse in judgment or, on the other end of the spectrum, total incompetence, corruption or immorality must be prevented at all cost.

    As a result, enormous resources are spent on writing detailed policies, procedures and regulations and the related compliance mechanisms. I suspect that in many cases these costs are more than the cost of doing what it is that the government unit is charged with doing. In one agency that I’m acquainted with, any deadline assigned at any level must be reported to district management. This comes with a specific form and follow up reporting requirements on progress and completion or failure thereof. Many just ignore this process with the result of, you guessed it, mostly nothing.

    President Obama, in his speech on reducing the deficit, ridiculed politicians on the subject of reducing spending by cutting waste, fraud and abuse. He then explained that to reduce the deficit we must all sacrifice so that worthy programs can actually be strengthened by eliminating unnecessary spending. His double-talk didn’t fool me.

    In the past, big governments reduced spending by simply cutting off the funds. Agencies then had to better utilize their resources or find their name in the media for failing to achieve their mission. Fear can be a good motivator. In the President’s own words unnecessary spending must be cut. So we all agree, now get on with it.

    The President also addressed tax spending. He didn’t say tax code, but that’s what he meant. The tax code is filled with inequities and rewards for bad behavior or rewards for no action when action is to be rewarded. We all agree that this needs to be fixed, now get on with it.

    Let’s see how the fear factor plays into this debate.

  • Marty from North Dakota

    robert108, more military then, right? No diet at all, no audits, no nothing…..anything goes. Print all the money needed for any number of war fronts, is that it? The purpose of government is to wage war around the world? Gut business with sanctions on lots of countries thereby taking supply off the market? You like higher prices for war? Well, you’re going to get it in spades, Pal.

  • borborygmi

    Any one out there that feels the Balanced Budget Amendment is good for the United States.