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Last Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.J.Res 1, the newest incarnation of the potentially disastrous balanced-budget amendment. As passed out of committee, the balanced-budget amendment is more extreme than versions proposed in the past, as it would not only require that government outlays equal receipts, but would also limit spending to about 16.7 percent of gross domestic product and require a 2/3’s majority for any increase in revenue.
In its comprehensive rebuke of the balanced-budget amendment, the Center on Budget and Priorities (CBPP) explains that the amendment has potential for “serious economic harm,” as it would force cuts in automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance during recessions when they are needed most. It’s precisely for this reason that more than 1,000 economists, including 11 Nobel laureates, signed a statement in 1997 opposing the balanced-budget amendment that Congress nearly approved that year.
The spending cap would require catastrophic cuts to government services even when the country is economically prosperous. The amendment would cut spending to 18 percent of the previous year’s GDP, which is typically about 16.7 percent of the current year’s GDP.
As CBPP explains, the required cuts would go well beyond those in Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan and be more on the scale of the much more extreme Republican Study Committee’s plan, which includes cutting in half the Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and Supplemental Security Income programs, just to name a few, on top of dramatic cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
Fortunately, passage of the amendment is no easy task. It requires a 2/3’s majority of both chambers of Congress and ratification by 3/4’s of the states. A test vote in the Senate on a resolution expressing support of a balanced-budget amendment in March garnered only 58 of the 67 votes required, showing that proponents of the amendment may have an uphill fight. On the other hand, the 1997 amendment came within one vote of approval in the Senate.
Radical anti-tax and Tea Party groups believe they can change this equation by pushing the amendment as part of their new “Cut, Cap, Balance” plan, which calls on lawmakers to require the passage of the amendment as a condition for increasing the debt ceiling. In fact, conservative groups are pushing Congressional Republican’s to hold off having a vote on the amendment, knowing that the threat of the debt ceiling vote is their best opportunity to pass it.
Lawmakers need to stand up to these groups who are attempting to hold our economy hostage (by not raising the debt ceiling) in order to pass a radical budget amendment as a Trojan Horse for draconian service cuts.
Former Republican Senator Judd Gregg recently commented, “Lord save us from the well intentioned and those who are trying to score political points or raise money” by pursing this form of “conservative misdirection.”