Earlier this week, we noted that the House GOP’s balanced budget amendment was more of a fig leaf amendment to cover their acts of political adultery on the budget and the debt ceiling. Republicans increased the debt when they had the votes to force spending cuts and are now trying to fool us with a vote that will never become law. But it’s worse than that. Even if this constitutional amendment somehow could be ratified, it would actually be a step backward.
Later today, after the House votes on the momentous and pressing issue of “Promoting Women in the Aviation Workforce Act, it will vote on the proposed balanced budget amendment. The amendment will not pass, because, like all constitutional amendments, it requires two-thirds voting in the affirmative, which means over 50 Democrats would have to support it. This is a fitting last hurrah for Speaker Paul Ryan, a man whose modus operandi is to draft conservative proposals when the outcome is not in contention and then vote for fiscally insolvent bills that will actually pass.
Section 4 of the amendment reads as follows: “No bill to increase revenue shall become law unless approved by a majority of the whole number of each House by a rollcall vote.”
Think about it: On the one hand, this would codify into the Constitution a requirement to balance the budget, but on the other hand, it allows taxes to be raised by just a simple majority vote! Republicans refuse to tinker with the Senate rules or even recent practice of requiring 60 votes in the Senate for spending cuts, but they will now codify language in the Constitution to raise taxes with just 51 vote – while under the gun to balance the budget. This would essentially lead to endless tax increases, because we know they will never cut spending. The balanced budget requirement would give them an easy excuse to raise taxes with a simple majority.
Even without the concern of tax increases, this particular amendment is a joke. Aside from the standard exception for a balancing the budget during times of war, the proposal allows three-fifths of Congress to waive the requirement for a balanced budget even during times of peace.
Guess what? The Senate just passed the omnibus bill with 65 votes, and the House was just shy of the three-fifths threshold (256-157). Undoubtedly, if 262 votes in the House would be the new 218 for budget bills, they would easily get a few more of the “hope yes, vote no” crowd to vote for it.
Amazingly, this clever subterfuge comes at a time when it’s becoming completely clear that the problem with our budget is all on the spending side of the ledger. Revenues are near all-time highs, and even after massive tax cuts, revenues are only down slightly, while spending grew seven percent in March, compared to this time last year. There is no way to tax our way or grow our way out of this crisis, when interest on the debt will surpass military spending in five years and rival even Medicare spending in 15 years.
A balanced budget amendment with teeth would require a simple majority for spending cuts and a super-majority for tax increases.
Alas, Republicans can’t even do a fake vote correctly.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.