One of the primary concerns conservatives have with the balanced budget amendment being voted on in the House today is that it contains no provisions to require super majorities for tax hikes. Conservatives argue that without those provisions, the requirement for a balanced budget will result in tax hikes not spending cuts.
It’s a valid concern, but during an interview today my Congressman Rep. Rick Berg made an interesting point about that:
Some conservatives, including Duane Sand who is challenging Berg for NDGOP’s Senate nomination in the 2012 race, have said that the balanced budget amendment would make it too easy to raise taxes. “Washington politicians are trying to weaken the proposed Balanced Budget Amendment by stripping it of a super-majority requirement to allow for tax hikes,” Sand said in a campaign emailing today. “Currently before the House of Representatives, big spenders are planning on allowing a simple majority vote in the watered-down version to increase taxes so that they can continue their reckless spending.”
But Berg dismissed those concerns saying that voters will judge tax increases at the ballot box. “Basically today if you said we need to balance the budget is to increase revenue or cut the budget,” said Berg. “The alternative is we’ve been building this huge deficit. If this passes and taxes are increased to balanced some future budget, that can be settled in the polls on election day every two years.”
I think Berg’s right. Raising taxes has consequences. If, at the very least, a balanced budget amendment forces government to pay for new spending be it through new taxes or spending cuts, that’s an improvement over the status quo where run-away growth in government is financed by printing money and borrowing from other countries.
There’s something to be said about pricing government appropriately. One reason why there’s so much support for bigger government is that we’re not really paying for a lot of the government we’re getting. The budget deficit for this past year is $1.3 trillion. That’s $1.3 trillion in government we didn’t pay for.
We will pay for it eventually, because one day that debt will have to be paid off (or defaulted on, but that’s a subject for another post), but right now our politicians are free to ring up huge amounts of new because they don’t have to make an argument for tax hikes (or spending cuts) alongside that new spending.
If they were forced to, that would change the dynamic in Washington for the better.