As Deficits Mount, Amendment to Require Balanced Budgets Fails in House
“If lawmakers think they can use a balanced-budget amendment as a fig leaf of fiscal responsibility after just voting for such an irresponsible spending bill,” he said, “they should think again.”
It has been a painful few months for those worried about growing budget deficits. In December, Republicans celebrated the passage of an overhaul of the tax code, which the Congressional Budget Office now says will add nearly $1.9 trillion to budget deficits from 2018 to 2028, a figure that includes lost revenue as well as additional interest costs.
This year, Congress approved a two-year budget deal to increase strict limits on military and domestic spending, and lawmakers subsequently approved a $1.3 trillion spending plan that provides big increases in funding.
On Monday, the budget office released an updated forecast that took into account the tax bill and the spending legislation, and the consequences were grim. The deficit is now projected to exceed $1 trillion in 2020, and deficits over the next decade are expected to total $11.7 trillion, up from the $10.1 trillion that had been expected last June.
“This Congress and this administration likely will go down as one of the most fiscally irresponsible administrations and Congresses that we’ve had,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, observed this week.
Yet on Thursday afternoon, House Republicans took to the floor of their chamber to proclaim the peril of the rising national debt, which has topped $21 trillion. For Republicans, the debate over the proposal amounted to an opportunity to vent — but not much more than that.
Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and the proposal’s sponsor, said the constitutional amendment would apply needed “external pressure” to force Congress to make difficult decisions — a “stop me before I kill again” argument that has long propelled the balanced budget amendment.
“It’s time for Congress to stop saddling future generations with the burden of crushing debts to pay for current spending,” Mr. Goodlatte said. “We should not pass on to our children and grandchildren the bleak fiscal future that our unsustainable spending is creating.”
But the attempted display of fiscal responsibility did little to soothe some conservative critics of the Republicans’ recent spending spree.
“The base does not want to see a stupid bad bill and then go get patted on their head,” said Adam Brandon, the president of FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group.
Amending the Constitution to require the federal government to have a balanced budget has been discussed for decades, and proposed amendments failed in the House and Senate in 2011. The vote held on Thursday fulfilled a commitment that the Republican leadership in the House had made to conservative lawmakers last year.
But Democrats assailed Republicans for preaching fiscal responsibility not long after voting for a tax bill that is projected to widen deficits. They warned that the proposal, if it ever became reality, would lead to deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare, programs that are driving up spending as the population ages.
“Like some stormy sermon from Trump on the virtues of chastity, I believe these House Republicans today really do deserve a gold medal for hypocrisy,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Texas.
In addition, economists critical of the idea of a balanced-budget amendment argue that it would essentially tie the hands of the government in the event of a recession, making economic conditions even worse.
“It would force the government to kick the economy when it was down, because it would force the government to raise taxes and cut benefit programs, or any other type of spending, when times were bad — which is exactly the opposite of what you want to do,” said Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning research organization.
In another sign of the discomfort being felt by Republicans over the recent spending bill, the White House and congressional Republicans — including Representative Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader — have been discussing whether to try to rescind some previously approved spending.
Using procedures laid out in a 1974 budget law, such an effort could pass the Senate with only a majority, allowing Republicans to sidestep Democrats whose votes were needed to pass the spending bill last month.
But even that would be a difficult threshold to reach, given the Republicans’ razor-thin majority in the Senate. The idea of clawing back already-approved funding has quickly run into resistance from some Republican lawmakers who are not eager to chip away at what had been a painstakingly negotiated spending plan.
Lawmakers are already looking toward coming up with spending legislation for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. By going back on what had been a bipartisan agreement, future negotiations would presumably become more difficult.
On Thursday, House Republicans also unveiled their farm bill, which includes significant new work requirements for recipients of benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food aid for around 40 million low-income Americans.
News credit : Nytimes