Cynical Balanced Budget Amendment Defeated, Just As GOP Planned

Republicans vote for a balanced budget while setting new heights for fiscal indiscipline. Photo: Andrew Harrer

The irony was lost on no one. Less than five months after the House passed a huge budget-busting tax cut bill, and less than one month after the same House passed a budget-busting Omnibus Appropriations bill, all but a handful of House Republicans voted for a balanced budget constitutional amendment “prohibiting total outlays for a fiscal year from exceeding total receipts for that fiscal year unless Congress authorizes the excess by a three-fifths roll call vote of each chamber.” They all knew it would fail, and that it would have wreaked havoc on GOP fiscal policies had it somehow been enacted.

About the best defense shame-faced Republicans could offer for this supreme act of hypocrisy is that the vote was promised to conservatives back in the fall, and thus wasn’t strictly speaking a cover action for the fiscal indiscipline they’ve been wallowing in since then.

But it’s still an amazing act of chutzpah, as the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell observes:

Laws passed since June 2017 alone are expected to add $2.7 trillion to deficits over the next decade, the CBO says. These legislative changes, plus rising interest costs, mean our federal debt will nearly overtake the size of the entire economy by 2028.

That’ll put our debt-to-economy ratio at its highest level since 1946 — that is, after we’d just racked up a huge bill fighting World War II.

This was the fourth time (it also happened in 1982, 1986 and 2011) the House failed to pass a BBA. It did clear one in 1995, but it perished in the Senate. Since three-fourths of the states would also have to ratify it, to the probable evisceration of federal assistance to state and local governments, it’s never been a lively prospect. But never has it been quite so clearly at odds with the Republican Party’s fiscal agenda in a Congress it controlled.

Five of the six House Republicans who voted against this turkey were hard-core conservatives, illustrating the un-seriousness of the enterprise. One of them summed up the sentiment:

But even some yea voters disrespected the enterprise:

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio … deemed the bill a “joke.” 

“It’s all pretend, Never gonna become law, never gonna happen,” Jordan said on the House floor. “Everybody knows this is all pretend.”

And Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said no one “will take this vote seriously.” 

It should be seriously considered that all but six House Republicans were willing to vote for a measure that if eventually ratified would force their party, finally, to choose between rescinding the tax cuts to which they are impossibly addicted, or enacting the spending cuts they sometimes embrace rhetorically but not specifically, knowing they would be politically ruinous.

Seven House Democrats voted for the balanced budget amendment (as of this writing, a list was not available). Given the general air of cynicism, it wasn’t really that noteworthy. In fact, one of the reasons the vote was guaranteed to fail was that House Democratic support for the amendment has steadily declined since 72 Democrats voted for it in 1995.

We’ll soon see the balanced budget amendment pop up in the GOP’s midterm congressional ads, unless the perpetrators are struck by lightning first.

Balanced Budget Amendment Defeated, Just As GOP Planned