Friday, July 22, 2011

The balanced budget amendment that wasn't

In what appeared, if you didn't look too closely, to be a noble effort to enact strong debt-reduction legislation, House Republicans on Tuesday passed a bill that would cut spending, cap total outlays based on average GDP growth, and amend the Constitution to require balanced annual budgets.

But like most things Republicans do, there's a catch. Or two catches, in this case.

Catch No. 1: It in fact wasn't a noble effort at all, because the bill has no chance of earning majority approval in the Senate and is therefore yet another example of the GOP wasting crucial time with useless legislation that has no chance of becoming law. The bill received a presidential veto threat even before it was passed (along party lines) in the House.

Catch No. 2: The balanced budget amendment included in the bill isn't really a balanced budget amendment.

The "Cut, Cap, and Balance" bill doesn't have the congressional support to cut or cap anything. Nor does it have the legal authority to balance anything. As a whole, the bill doesn't do anything.

It makes veiled threats to the effect that, if enacted (doubtful), Congress would not allow the debt limit to increase until spending is cut and capped over time, and until a balanced budget amendment is sent to the states for ratification, but it doesn't actually achieve those ends.

As Republicans well know, or should know, demanding a balanced budget amendment isn't the same as actually voting for one. The former requires only a simple majority to pass through Congress, while the latter requires a two-thirds supermajority and three-quarters of states' approval for implementation.

Republicans didn't achieve that.

That fact they didn't even try to achieve that says something about their intelligence. On the one hand, they're not so naïve as to think that a balanced budget amendment would garner enough support in Congress to meet the two-thirds majority requirement needed for eventual implementation. On the other hand, they settled for a purely symbolic gesture that achieves nothing and that has just as hopeless a future in the Senate as an actual, legitimate amendment proposal would have.

We need a name for this sort of political posturing.

I propose "Rainbow Wheel Politics."

Any other suggestions?

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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