A Balanced Budget Amendment?

Written by my good friend and constitutional scholar, Scott N. Bradley.

Do we need a Balanced Budget Amendment? NO! A constitutionally-sound informed electorate could quickly bring about the conditions which would allow the nation to balance the federal budget and end deficit spending.

Thomas Jefferson wrote: “A nation that expects to be ignorant and free…expects what never was and never will be.” The voters must come to understand that it is our responsibility to make certain our representatives honor their oath of office and keep their actions constrained within the scope and bounds established by the Constitution (no, the Constitution does not say “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”–that was Karl Marx).

In November 2010, using the power of the ballot box, we could have removed ALL of our unfaithful congressmen, and 1/3 of our senators. Two years from now we again have the opportunity to do the same thing, and also cleanse the executive department.

Currently, upwards of 80% of expenditures authorized by congress and enforced by the executive branch (at the pandering insistence of the voters) violate the United States Constitution. Whether it is unconstitutional military “adventurism” around the world, foreign aid, ever-expanding entitlement programs, redistribution of wealth to States, corporations, communities, or individuals, none of these activities are allowed by our nation’s supreme law.

Immediate steps must be taken to curtail these encroachments. “Sunset” clauses must be incorporated into all entitlement programs, and no additional entitlement programs authorized. No Balanced Budget Amendment is necessary if we insist that our elected representatives keep their actions (and expenditures) within the bounds established by the United States Constitution!

In addition, the potential proposed Balanced Budget Amendments all contain a number of fatal flaws:

First of all, each version of the amendment allows deficit spending based upon agreement of (in most instances) a 60% approval of both houses of congress (the theory this will receive support under is that this will allow a wartime deficit budget if needed). With this stipulation, 60 senators and 261 congressmen may approve a deficit budget. Because most senators and congressmen support the unconstitutional idea of buying votes back home by delivering largess out of the public treasury to their constituents, it is not hard to see how even in non wartime circumstances (if the nation ever experiences a time when we are not at war) most budget votes easily attain the 60% threshold (the practice of adding additional expenditures to buy the votes of reluctant congressmen will continue at an even greater rate than it has in the past). So, we can see that unless representatives are willing to keep their actions within constitutional bounds most budgets will exceed the available funds, the require threshold of votes will be attained, and the result will be further deficits in spite of the Balanced Budget Amendment.

If the Balanced Budget Amendment is in place, and when the 60% deficit-allowing threshold is not attainable, but the majority still want to spend the money they feel they need to spend (usually for items and issues not constitutionally allowed, but for such items as entitlement programs, stimulus packages, etc. and which they think are “important” for them to get re-elected), they will wring their hands in impotent despair and bemoan the fact that the Constitution now requires the budget to be balanced, therefore (since these desired items are so critically important and the majority of congress agrees to the importance, but they cannot muster the 60%) they will be required to raise taxes to cover the expenses. Even those who prefer a tax increase to a budget deficit will at some point reach the breaking point where they will no longer be able to sustain themselves because the government has devoured their entire living (“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”—Declaration of Independence).

In addition, it would be a miracle if the national leadership did not regularly resort to spending “off budget” (which is currently a common practice for “important” expenditures that they do not want to have calculated in the national debt for various reasons).

Today’s politicians have buried the nation in debt. They have done this by ignoring the constitutional limits of their power, acting as though they have power to tax and spend for any whim that strikes them. They tax trillions of hard-earned dollars each year from the citizens of this land, only to spend hundreds of billions (and even trillions) more each year than they collect. Sadly, most of the spending is not authorized by the United States Constitution.

There is an additional extreme danger we must associate with the effort to obtain a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution: We may be certain that in the current political world a Balanced Budget Amendment will not garner the constitutionally required 2/3 majority of both houses of congress and ratification of 3/4 of all States to become an amendment. Consequently, as the call for a Balanced Budget Amendment increases in popularity among the good and caring people of the nation, they will become frustrated with congress and call for a Constitution Convention as provided for in Article V of the Constitution. In 1983 the United States came within two States of calling a Constitution Convention as the popular outcry for a Balanced Budget Amendment pushed the nation dangerously close to a constitution-destroying Constitution Convention. If that happens, we will lose the entire Constitution as a new one will be written and brought forth (as happened in 1787 during the only other Constitution Convention this nation has experienced). In the current political environment, with the current lack of soundly-principled statesmen, and with the current state of ignorance among the electorate, we must NOT be led into the trap of a Con-Con!

The solution is a return to the constraints of power on the federal government which exist within the United States Constitution. The problem is not with the Constitution. The Constitution is not flawed. It does not need to be changed. The problem is that we have stopped applying the Constitution. We do not have to amend the Constitution to solve this problem, and we do not have to risk a ConCon to bring things back into proper order. The solution is to begin again to abide within the constraints so carefully defined within the plain English words of the United States Constitution. James Madison stated that the powers of the national government were “few and well defined.” Perhaps, when the people of the Nation again understand that fact, the Nation’s leadership will be compelled to abide by their oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Hopefully, the electorate will become soundly-founded “constitutionalists” that will vigorously insist that their representatives abide by their oath to uphold the Constitution, and that they will not hesitate to remove from office any and all who violate that strict oath.

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