Why the Balanced Budget Amendment Is Terrible, and Why Congress Is Voting on It Anyway

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Obama is not a fan. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As the debt negotiations continue this week — the last week, we hope — Congress will simultaneously deal with the sideshow of the Balanced Budget Amendment. This is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would, as the name suggests, encourage Congress to pass a balanced budget by requiring a two-thirds supermajority to pass one that isn't. The House and Senate will vote this week on legislation that says the debt ceiling can only be raised once such an amendment passes through Congress. While that idea is popular with the GOP, it's not likely to get through the Democratically held Senate, and President Obama has already promised to veto it.

Not every Democrat is necessarily opposed to any kind of balanced-budget amendment, but this particular one goes far beyond what even budget-conscious Blue Dogs are willing to support. For starters, the amendment makes no exceptions for recessions, in which heightened government spending is crucial to the economy. It also requires a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of Congress to pass a tax increase, effectively ensuring that no taxes will ever rise again (even though tax increases would help to balance the budget, which is somehow not important to backers of the Balanced Budget Amendment). The spending cuts it would require would be more drastic than even those proposed by Paul Ryan or Rand Paul. It's so extreme that, as Ezra Klein wrote back in April, "Not a single year of the Bush administration would qualify as constitutional under this amendment. Nor would a single year of the Reagan administration. The Clinton administration would’ve had exactly two years in which it wasn’t in violation."

The only reason this legislation will get its day in Congress this week is to appease the right wing of the Republican Party before trying to sell it on whatever deal is eventually hashed out between Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and President Obama. As First Read notes this morning, "the House GOP leadership needs to show — and not just say — to some of its new rank-and-file members that a Balanced Budget Amendment cannot pass ... [O]nce that's out of the way (after a necessary amount of messaging to go with it), the real convincing takes place." It's like taking your toddler to the playground. He wants to play basketball, but you know he won't even be able to reach the rim. So you have to prove it to him first by letting him shoot an air ball. Only then will he grudgingly play on one of those lame spring animals.

First Thoughts: Holding pattern [First Read/MSNBC]
Republican push for balanced-budget amendment faces high hurdles in House [Hill]
New balanced budget amendment, not the same as the old balanced budget amendment [Ezra Klein/WP]