John Merrifield and Barry Poulson of The American Spectator write (abridged):
Moderate Democrats in Congress are finally showing some backbone. A “Blue Dog” coalition of 27 Democrats is supporting a joint resolution proposing a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) introduced the legislation, H.J. Resolution 55.
In the current legislative session, Republicans have introduced 16 resolutions calling for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
With such bipartisan support, enacting a resolution for a balanced-budget amendment should be a slam dunk.
The McAdams resolution would require the president to submit, and Congress to enact, a balanced budget each year. Congress could override this requirement with a supermajority vote. An exception to the requirement would be applied in years of war and during military conflicts declared by Congress.
An exception to the annual balanced-budget requirement would also be made in years when the U.S. economic growth rate is negative, or the unemployment rate exceeds 7 percent.
A companion resolution, S.J. Resolution 18, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), would also provide exceptions for outlays relating to natural disasters.
Both resolutions would apply the balanced-budget requirement to total revenue and total expenditures, with an exemption for debt service.
There is one exemption from the balanced-budget requirement that could prove to be a stumbling block: Both resolutions would exempt the receipts and expenditures for Social Security and Medicare.
Most of the deficits and debt projected in the federal budget are linked to these entitlement programs. If reforms to entitlement programs are not implemented to constrain the growth in these programs, there is no way Congress could reduce deficits and debt.
A possible solution to the U.S. entitlement crisis could mimic one successfully implemented in Switzerland. When the Swiss enacted their so-called “debt brake,” they exempted major reforms to their Social Security program.
The resolutions introduced in this session of Congress could be the basis for a bipartisan agreement on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
John Merrifield (email@example.com) is professor of economics at the University of Texas-San Antonio. Barry Poulson is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
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