Incremental attacks on liberty come in many forms. Some are fairly obvious: The Patriot Act, The TSA, inflation via the Federal Reserve, endless wars, etc. Others, taking the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing approach, are less so. One example is the balanced budget amendment, which has again reared its ugly head — this time as part of the Cut, Cap and Balance bill.
Superficially, a balanced budget amendment sounds like a good idea. After all, the Republicans remind us (because they are oh, so thrifty), as individuals we can’t live above our means without getting into financial trouble. Why should the federal government be allowed to?
But when we look a little closer, we realize that a balanced budget amendment is not only unnecessary, but dangerous, for several reasons.
First, the issue is not whether any given federal budget is balanced, but whether it is constitutional. When the President, Senators and Representatives are sworn into office, they swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, which severely limits the scope of the federal government. No reference is made in the balanced budget amendment regarding the constitutionality of the budget items. It will simply legalize what is now unconstitutional as long as they stay within certain financial limits.
Second, a balanced budget will simply mean Washington raises taxes/prints money to offset unconstitutional expenditures. As mentioned above, it nowhere addresses the issue of the limitations the founders placed on the federal government via the Constitution. Nor does it address the more important issues of fiat money, the Fed or the IRS. While the balanced budget amendment supposedly limits the amount of money the Congress can spend, it also gives them the authority to waive those limits.
Third, the founders gave the “power of the purse” to the legislative branch. The balanced budget amendment will transfer this power to the President, giving the President the power to budget and tax, blurring the separation of powers the founders wisely gave us.
In June of 1921 the Congress passed the unconstitutional Budget and Accounting Act which supposedly granted budget making power to the President. Ever since then, Presidents have been required to submit a budget for the entire Federal government. Since that Act was unconstitutional, the President’s budgets are unconstitutional. The balanced budget amendment will not only legalize what is now unconstitutional, but it transfers the power to tax to the President. Congress will once again have ceded its power to the Executive branch. Congress has already surrendered its power to declare war to the President, and if this bill is passed, we will be one step closer to the President officially being a dictator.
Fourth, the Congress and the President constantly ignore the limits of the Constitution. What makes anyone think that if there is a balanced budget amendment that all of a sudden they will honor their oath to the Constitution? If they were doing that now, an amendment wouldn’t be necessary. The problem is with the character of the President and the members of Congress — not the document.
Fifth, Public Law 95-435, which was signed into law by Jimmy Carter, requires a balanced budget. In other words, it is already federal law that the federal budget be balanced — we do not need an amendment to the Constitution. It has been on the books for years. This is just another example of the crooks in Washington simply ignoring the law. Again, the issue is the lack of character and integrity of the bums that supposedly represent us in Washington.
PL 95-435: “Sec. 7. Beginning in fiscal year 1981, the total budget outlays of the Federal Government shall not exceed its receipts.”
The Balanced Budget Amendment: “SECTION 1. Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year."
Any substantive difference there? What’s stopping them from balancing the budget as they are already required?
Sixth, a balanced budget amendment could take many years, if not decades, before it was ratified by the states. In the meantime, the economy will have collapsed.
Seventh, in addition to whatever time it takes to ratify the balanced budget amendment, it doesn’t go into effect until another five years later. This is the Wimpy approach: “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” The politicians that are supposedly being so fiscally responsible are just pushing all this nonsense far into the future — no different than their other plans to allegedly cut taxes and spending. A person of integrity would deal with this now and not push it onto someone else years down the road.
Eighth, who enforces this? How is it enforced? Who determines if the amendment has been violated? What are the penalties for violating the amendment? There doesn’t appear to be any current punishment for violating the Constitution. Think about it: Michigan Representative John Conyers once said, “We don’t read most of the bills [we pass.]” Nancy Pelosi told us we had to pass the health care bill to find out what was in it. How will this be different?
Ninth, if the Cut, Cap and Balance bill goes nowhere or is vetoed by Obama, it puts the Republicans in a position to say, “See? We tried,” and blame it on the Democrats. If fiscal responsibility and adherence to the Constitution are so important to them, why didn’t they just end the unconstitutional agencies, programs, taxing and spending when they controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency?
Tenth, while I consider the Constitution to be a dead letter, it still is technically the law of the land. The real danger of a balanced budget amendment is the clamor to get it via a Constitutional Convention. If the Cut, Cap and Balance bill is passed and Obama vetoes it, expect renewed fervor for a Constitutional Convention. If that happens, there is no way to limit the purpose of the Convention to a balanced budget amendment, and we will finally lose the Constitution once and for all. It’s how we got our Constitution in the first place — the founders tossed out the Articles of Confederation when the states’ representatives were only authorized to amend them.
Again, I know our “leaders” in Washington, who Tom Woods referred to as “interchangeable nobodies, and liars, and thieves and killers” already ignore the Constitution, but they would love an opportunity to finally toss it into the trash as a quaint, antiquated document and be done with it in their quest for total government. Hopefully, through a Ron Paul presidency, the election of a few decent Representatives and eventually several decent Senators, we can restore allegiance to the Constitution and actually have politicians, if not statesmen, that honor their oath of office. That will not happen by way of a balanced budget amendment.
A Ron Paul presidency, which I wholeheartedly support, will go a long way in achieving that goal, but I remain convinced that it is much more likely that we will achieve it via the nullification approach from the bottom up rather than trying to change the make-up of Congress from the top down. In either case, the bottom line is that it bears repeating that a balanced budget amendment is unnecessary, a diversion from the truly critical issues, and very dangerous.
Mark Carroll [send him mail], who formerly worked for a conservative grassroots organization, is a long time political activist. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.