Video: Pawlenty pushes balanced-budget amendment

posted at 2:20 pm on December 30, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Tim Pawlenty runs into a less-than-sympathetic interview on Fox on his push for a balanced budget constitutional amendment, both at the state and national levels. This proposal is an evergreen, with well-meaning people pushing it in every administration since at least Reagan. The Gramm-Rudman bill attempted to impose something similar without amending the Constitution, as did pay-go, and both failed because they relied on Congress to comply voluntarily. If Congress could do that, we wouldn’t have the deficit problems we do now, of course, which is why Pawlenty needs it in Minnesota and appears to want to run on a federal constitutional amendment for 2012:

It’s a good idea in theory, and perhaps an excellent idea at the state level, but it could be a big problem at the federal level. Pawlenty understands that it would have to allow some exceptions, mainly for war and natural disasters, with strict limiting on scope and timeframe, but the real danger is Congress itself. The impulse during Gramm-Rudman and pay-go was to increase taxation, not to limit spending, when faced with looming deficits. Pawlenty’s political opponents want exactly that in Minnesota, as discussed in the interview.

In some sense, the deficits remind voters that Congress overspends. Instead of giving Congress a handy mechanism to give themselves an excuse to tax more, we should find ways to get them to spend less. The best way to do that is to get big-spending incumbents out of Congress and replace them with people who have felt the effects of their profligate ways.

Still, this shows that Pawlenty and the GOP have a grip on the right issues heading into 2010 and 2012. Democrats are very vulnerable on deficit spending and runaway government growth. Demanding a constitutional amendment to address those issues may not be practical in terms of a solution, but it gives Republicans an excellent entree to the issue.


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In some sense, the deficits remind voters that Congress overspends.

Which doesn’t really outweigh the negative impact of the deficits themselves.

I agree, however, that the key to getting Congress to reduce spending is to vote out the big spenders.

BadgerHawk on December 30, 2009 at 2:24 PM

Timmy: you ain’t gonna be elected prez.

beachgirlusa on December 30, 2009 at 2:25 PM

Never going to happen even in a million years. We are just way too far into debt to consider a constitutional requirement to balance the Federal budget. The only way I can see this happening is if the US defaults on everything it owes, and that includes the unfunded liabilities for social security and Medicare, and sets the clock back to zero, maybe then. We are just too far into debt for any meaningful changes to be enacted.

We are like that family that took out 5 equity lines on their house, maxed them out and one of the parents lost their job. They can’t even make the minimum interest payments now and they are going to lose their house.

Johnnyreb on December 30, 2009 at 2:27 PM

Yep. A law that requires a balanced budget at the hands of Congress would only give them all the reason they need to double taxes. Unless of course they use a static number based on tax receipts now and that becomes the budget. Which ain’t never gonna happen with a Dhim Congress.

Guardian on December 30, 2009 at 2:30 PM

In the 2012 general election, the issue is going to be national security.

atheling on December 30, 2009 at 2:31 PM

Liberal translation: Raise taxes.

kevinkristy on December 30, 2009 at 2:32 PM

The guy increased the budget from 25 billion when he took office in 02 to nearly 35 billion now, so not quite 50%. Property taxes have really gone up under him. T-Paw is like W, a fiscal moderate at best who can check Democratic tax increases. He’s never cut the MN budget, instead relying on accounting gimmicks. He should go nowhere in 2012.

IR-MN on December 30, 2009 at 2:32 PM

Johnnyreb on December 30, 2009 at 2:27 PM

Yeah, which is why I’d rather have taxes low and deficits high than the other way around.

The deficits are already so high that middle class income is going to be devestated by inflation/ monetezation/ default. I don’t need to lose another 5 or 15% of my income just to put the inevitable off another couple of years.

BadgerHawk on December 30, 2009 at 2:32 PM

The Gramm-Rudman bill attempted to impose something similar without amending the Constitution, as did pay-go, and both failed because they relied on Congress to comply voluntarily.

Hey, wouldn’t be great if there were a document that expressly limited the powers of Congress and the rest of the government.

I know, that’s just crazy talk…..

Juno77 on December 30, 2009 at 2:33 PM

How about during war time? I think it is extremely hard to keep a balanced budget during war time.

terryannonline on December 30, 2009 at 2:33 PM

Oh, they’ll debate it well enough, right up to the point where somebody gets an amendment approved that institutes Congressional term limits.

This way they can vote the bill down on a voice vote and no one will ask for a roll call.

BobMbx on December 30, 2009 at 2:34 PM

drain the swamp is the only way to fix any of this mess IMO

gatorboy on December 30, 2009 at 2:34 PM

How about during war time? I think it is extremely hard to keep a balanced budget during war time.

terryannonline on December 30, 2009 at 2:33 PM

Ever here of a “rainy day” savings account? This is not rocket science, folks. You budget based on what you have in revenue, not what you want to spend.

Is it really that hard?

BobMbx on December 30, 2009 at 2:35 PM

Pawlenty is not ready for prime time.

portlandon on December 30, 2009 at 2:36 PM

How about capping the budget to a percentage of previous year’s GDP?

antisocial on December 30, 2009 at 2:37 PM

In the 2012 general election, the issue is going to be national security.

atheling on December 30, 2009 at 2:31 PM

Hard to vote under martial law and smoldering cities. But we’ll try!

SouthernGent on December 30, 2009 at 2:37 PM

The impulse during Gramm-Rudman and pay-go was to increase taxation, not to limit spending, when faced with looming deficits. Pawlenty’s political opponents want exactly that in Minnesota, as discussed in the interview.

Think any member of congress would get re-elected if they were forced to vote for 1.5 trillion in tax increases this year?

Nope.

lorien1973 on December 30, 2009 at 2:38 PM

Instead of giving Congress a handy mechanism to give themselves an excuse to tax more, we should find ways to get them to spend less. The best way to do that is to get big-spending incumbents out of Congress and replace them with people who have felt the effects of their profligate ways.

Ed, I think the former (raise in taxes) would lead to the latter (kicking the bums out). Higher taxes provide a proximal consequence for Congressional spending decisions – instead of kicking it down the road ‘painlessly’ as deficits rise.

gwelf on December 30, 2009 at 2:40 PM

Good issue for him, little chance of implementing.

Think Steve Forbes, Flat Tax kind of political issue.

I’ll support T-Paw if he gets the nod, but I suspect he’ll get about as far as Forbes did.

cs89 on December 30, 2009 at 2:40 PM

Think any member of congress would get re-elected if they were forced to vote for 1.5 trillion in tax increases this year?

Nope.

lorien1973 on December 30, 2009 at 2:38 PM

Exactly.

gwelf on December 30, 2009 at 2:40 PM

If I had an endless supply of money that I didn’t have to account for, I would probably waste it frivolously also. But, I can’t I unlike congress have to work for a living and can afford to waste money. It’s OK in 275 days there is going to be an accounting and it’s going to surprise them.

Tommy_G on December 30, 2009 at 2:40 PM

Complete non-starter.

More plausible are state laws that would make spending more than 1,000 days in a lifetime in Washington, DC, a felony.

cthulhu on December 30, 2009 at 2:41 PM

This guy creeps me out.

stenwin77 on December 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM

You match this with legislation limiting taxes and it is a great idea. Something must be done to reign in spending, at least Pawlenty wants to tackle the problem.

echosyst on December 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM

If the amendment is written properly, it does not have to lead to automatic tax increases. I favor an amendment that limits total federal taxes to no more than 20% of projected national income and then prohibits Congress from appropriating more than that without a 2/3 vote declaring a fiscal or defense emergency.

rockmom on December 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM

I’d be far more impressed if a potential candidate for President spelled out not only what “Czars” but also what Cabinet-level Departments (s)he intended to do away with once voted into office.

ya2daup on December 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM

Think any member of congress would even -dream- of running up a 1.5 trillion deficit if they had to vote for 1.5 trillion in tax increases?

Nope.

lorien1973 on December 30, 2009 at 2:43 PM

Yaaaawwwwnnn. About 1/3 into this I almost fell asleep. Pawlenty and his ilk in the GOP should get jobs in the Sleep Therapy Industry.

This guy is living back in the 1990′s. Here we are in the middle of a battle fighting tooth/nail to keep our Constitution from being diminished/minimalized and he’s spouting this Gerbers baby food pablum?? Give me a break. This is the best the GOP has to put forth? All they know how to do is play it safe and keep protecting their own little patch of turf. Disgusting. Darvin Dowdy

Darvin Dowdy on December 30, 2009 at 2:43 PM

Just make the amendment such that the government may not spend more than X % of the previous year’s GDP.
I am uncertain what X needs to be, but below is a demo of what I mean.
X=5%
2009 GDP was $10T
2010 budget cannot be more than $500B

Nathan_OH on December 30, 2009 at 2:46 PM

If govt were simply reduced to Art I Sec 8 constraints, there’d be a balanced budget.

Akzed on December 30, 2009 at 2:47 PM

Think any member of congress would get re-elected if they were forced to vote for 1.5 trillion in tax increases this year?

Nope.

lorien1973 on December 30, 2009 at 2:38 PM

The beauty of this is that it would also provide a much clearer way of showing how Congress affects the economy. Not only would a 1.5 trillion tax cause a massive purge in Conress at election time but it would also be disastrous for the economy if actually enacted which means there is little chance it would be done in the first place.

gwelf on December 30, 2009 at 2:47 PM

If govt were simply reduced to Art I Sec 8 constraints, there’d be a balanced budget.

Akzed on December 30, 2009 at 2:47 PM

Exactly what I’d like to see take place!

ya2daup on December 30, 2009 at 2:50 PM

Snowballs chance in hell.

rjoco1 on December 30, 2009 at 2:50 PM

The guy increased the budget from 25 billion when he took office in 02 to nearly 35 billion now, so not quite 50%. Property taxes have really gone up under him. T-Paw is like W, a fiscal moderate at best who can check Democratic tax increases. He’s never cut the MN budget, instead relying on accounting gimmicks. He should go nowhere in 2012.

IR-MN on December 30, 2009 at 2:32 PM

Ughhh…

Do we have anyone we can run in 2012 who has actually reduced government spending as an executive? or at least kept it flat?

BPD on December 30, 2009 at 2:50 PM

The impulse during Gramm-Rudman and pay-go was to increase taxation, not to limit spending, when faced with looming deficits.

Exactly, and thus there are no excuses for how idiotic this idea is.

Buy Danish on December 30, 2009 at 2:51 PM

I’d rather have high taxes than a deficit. The taxes are an immediate felt pain, both by the tax payers and as a result by the congress. Taxes too have an upper limit practicaly, while deficits know no bounds. It would be the beginning of reigning in the spending. Maybe not immediately, but eventualy, which is more than we have now.

AnotherOpinion on December 30, 2009 at 2:51 PM

It’s also a sad commentary that the notion that the government should constrain itself to a budget that we can actually afford is somehow radical or unpopular or unworkable.

gwelf on December 30, 2009 at 2:52 PM

Just make the amendment such that the government may not spend more than X % of the previous year’s GDP.
I am uncertain what X needs to be, but below is a demo of what I mean.
X=5%
2009 GDP was $10T
2010 budget cannot be more than $500B

Nathan_OH on December 30, 2009 at 2:46 PM

I think your idea is the best here… even when you include T-Paw’s. I don’t think deficits are the problem, it’s the spending (stupid!).

FWIW: I would personally set X at 10, but we’d probably need it closer to 15. I would NOT set a number much higher than that, because it’s absolutely impossible to take in more tax revenues than 20% GDP (the real number is somewhere around 18%-18.5%).

The important thing is, it’s critical to make sure the government doesn’t grow faster than the economy that supports it. Ignoring this will lead to collapse. We’d be much better off having a budget of 1 Trillion and having deficits of 200 Bil than having a budget of 2.5 trillion and having it balanced…. let alone a budget of 3.6 trillion and having a deficit of 1.4 trillion.

Chaz706 on December 30, 2009 at 2:54 PM

Since our dollar is no longer backed by gold…why not sell the countries entire gold supply to pay off the National debt? Most of the gold was obtained when prices where a few dollars and ounce. Sell it now, pay off the government debt, and no longer allow deficit spending by the State or Federal government.

trs on December 30, 2009 at 2:54 PM

Instead of giving Congress a handy mechanism to give themselves an excuse to tax more, we should find ways to get them to spend less.

We should create a law of laws, let’s call it a constitution. IN that constitution we should enumerate the powers of congress. Since these power are limited in scope, our federal government will not be able to spend much money.

WashJeff on December 30, 2009 at 2:56 PM

Snooze!
Pawlenty should come with a shot of adrenaline.

HornetSting on December 30, 2009 at 2:56 PM

OT,
Here’s an ad for that-impossible-for-theGOP-to-win Senate seat in Mass.
Good to know the RNC isn’t wasting precious resources on this sort of thing.
It’s not like he’s a sure thing like Lincoln Chafee or Arlen Specter or Debra Scozza…

billy on December 30, 2009 at 2:58 PM

AnotherOpinion on December 30, 2009 at 2:51 PM

What planet do you live on? Social Justice Democrats don’t care if they turn us into Zimbabwe – they’ll tax, tax, tax and spend, spend, spend to their hearts’ content. It’s all about “redistributive change”, baby.

Buy Danish on December 30, 2009 at 2:59 PM

Just what we need in 2012- an annoying wimpy accountant with zero personality and utopian ideas.
Debt as a low % of GDP is the way to go historically.
Sometimes you want and need credit- the key is not to have it blow a hole in your annual budget.

jjshaka on December 30, 2009 at 3:02 PM

Is it really that hard?

BobMbx on December 30, 2009 at 2:35 PM

No.

The wife and I have to balance our budget every day, of every month, of every year. If we are faced with an unexpected expense, we have the choice to get second jobs (at the risk of reducing the time we have to spend with our children) or to cut spending elsewhere. We have chosen to cut spending every time.

Why do we not expect the same of our Congress?

rukiddingme on December 30, 2009 at 3:05 PM

No.

The wife and I have to balance our budget every day, of every month, of every year. If we are faced with an unexpected expense, we have the choice to get second jobs (at the risk of reducing the time we have to spend with our children) or to cut spending elsewhere. We have chosen to cut spending every time.

Why do we not expect the same of our Congress?

rukiddingme on December 30, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Sucka! I just use credit cards for everything. When the bill comes due I go over to my neighbors house and take his cash. On second thought…where do you live? =)

gwelf on December 30, 2009 at 3:08 PM

rukiddingme on December 30, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Sucka! I just use credit cards for everything. When the bill comes due I go over to my neighbors house and take his cash. On second thought…where do you live? =)

gwelf on December 30, 2009 at 3:08 PM

Yes. We. Can.

HornetSting on December 30, 2009 at 3:09 PM

Maybe with an amendment, that for every dollar in new taxes(regardless of what congress calls them) one dollar in spending must occur.

Don L on December 30, 2009 at 3:13 PM

Why bother with a constitutional amendment, they will just ignore it as they do the rest of the constitution.

The Department of Education is enabled through the Commerce clause?

barnone on December 30, 2009 at 3:17 PM

How about just repealing this:

AMENDMENT XVI
Passed by Congress July 2, 1909. Ratified February 3, 1913.

Note: Article I, section 9, of the Constitution was modified by amendment 16.

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

That goes a long way towards righting the balance, killing increased taxes and otherwise making it easy for the Federal Government to extract money directly from the people.

A lot simpler than a ‘balanced budget amendment’.

Easier to sell, too.

ajacksonian on December 30, 2009 at 3:22 PM

gwelf on December 30, 2009 at 3:08 PM

Down by the river….in a van.

Actually, Texas. Come on down. The wife and I can always find time for some extra target practice! :-)

rukiddingme on December 30, 2009 at 3:29 PM

Here’s my solution to out of control spending. We add a new tax, that EVERYONE pays into each year, over the course of the year. Then, if the budget is balanced, everyone gets a check mailed to them on December 1st, just in time to pump up the holiday economy. However, if the corruptocrats don’t balance the budget, then refunds will be adjusted to pay for the deficit. Now, if you make it mandatory to refund 100% of the taxes paid in, for the first 2 years, people will get used to that refund check come December 1st. The first year that check doesn’t show up, heads will roll! I think everyone that is making over $10,000 can afford to pay in at least $100, and gradually take it up to say $1000+/ person for anyone making 100,000. Hey, I hate new taxes as much as anyone, but we have way too many people that are out of touch with what is happening to our counrty! What we need is more people to have SKIN in the game.

Salukidog on December 30, 2009 at 4:07 PM

[ajacksonian on December 30, 2009 at 3:22 PM]

I gut says yes, but I’m not sure. One thing I would like considered is the repeal of 17th and placing the election of Senators back in the hands of the state legislatures unless there is some other way to re-establish state checks on the Federal government. As it stands now, the states have little to no control over Federal reach, and the relationship has become a convenient symbiosis of growth, complexity and corruption which the public has, for all intents and purposes, no means to contain except at intervals of two or six years without a huge groundswell effort made at the grassroots level.

Much as I appreciate the need to be an active participant in the political process, the system should not be set up such that it is everyone’s full time job.

Dusty on December 30, 2009 at 4:15 PM

Oh, ok.

Didn’t know he was one of those.

AnninCA on December 30, 2009 at 4:19 PM

So raise the taxes finally. It is better than destroying the dollar through inflation.

There was a time (pre-1980s) when conservatives favored paying for the bills.

AshleyTKing on December 30, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Running on a Constitutional amendment, even a good one, is risky at best. Since the Bill of Rights were ratified in…err…1791(?) there have been only 17 others.

These things are haaaarrrd to get ratified.

pugwriter on December 30, 2009 at 4:43 PM

ajacksonian on December 30, 2009 at 3:22 PM

Works for me!

ya2daup on December 30, 2009 at 5:09 PM

Just make the amendment such that the government may not spend more than X % of the previous year’s GDP.
I am uncertain what X needs to be, but below is a demo of what I mean.
X=5%
2009 GDP was $10T
2010 budget cannot be more than $500B

Nathan_OH on December 30, 2009 at 2:46 PM

You want them screwing around with GDP numbers even more?

Pawlenty understands that it would have to allow some exceptions, mainly for war and natural disasters,

Yeah, but then “war on Terror” and “Katrina rebuilding” funds would still be allocated in 2280, long after mandatory neural locks ended terrorism and the Gulf Coast was absorbed into New Siam (formerly known as Cuba) after the 3rd Thai-American War.

jarodea on December 30, 2009 at 5:34 PM

Implement the FairTax and then put a balanced budget in. Problems solved.

BierManVA on December 30, 2009 at 6:40 PM

I like the solution in the Bill of Federalism: In any year in which the federal debt increases, the president is given a line-item veto. Also, budget items may not be mixed with other bills.

njcommuter on December 30, 2009 at 7:10 PM

Restoring the line-item veto would go a long way.

Chris_Balsz on December 30, 2009 at 7:40 PM

The big problem is spending, it’s not anything else. America is like Ed McMahon, he had a couple hundred million dollars and died bankrupt.

Mojave Mark on December 30, 2009 at 8:39 PM

jarodea on December 30, 2009 at 5:34 PM

It would be a great deal more difficult for them to fudge GDP numbers to get a budgetary CF life we have now.

No one with a brain and a heartbeat would buy that we had a 3X increase in GDP in ’08 to justify the 3x increase in gov’t psending in ’09 (i know, didn’t spend 3x more but you get the point)

Nathan_OH on December 30, 2009 at 8:47 PM

It’s not that we have a real systemic failure, we have a chronic personnel problem. There’s no real way to devise a paper cage for a pack of thieves. They will just lie about what “GDP” is. Or whether it must be adjusted for inflation. Or how often. Or by who.

Chris_Balsz on December 31, 2009 at 1:15 AM

Johnnyreb on December 30, 2009 at 2:27 PM

Clearly you’re confusing deficits with debt.

fossten on December 31, 2009 at 8:23 AM

Did you hear Tim Pawlenty guest-host on Jason Lewis’ show last week? He spent quite a bit of time pushing the idea, and had to agree with the some of the weaknesses presented to him by callers – one of which is that it does nothing to prevent higher taxation as a means for balancing the budget. But Tim had it right many times when he talked of the imbalance of our unfunded obligations vs. tax revenues.

Anyway, all three segments are worth a listen.

http://www.ktlkfm.com/cc-common/podcast/single_podcast.html?podcast=jasonlewis.xml

Good for Tim for actually being on the air for three hours. It was a good view into the man.

beatcanvas on December 31, 2009 at 9:10 AM

Combine the balanced budget ammendment with a cap on tax rates and a cap on the size of govt, and you might have a winner.

MarkTheGreat on December 31, 2009 at 10:58 AM

It would be a great deal more difficult for them to fudge GDP numbers to get a budgetary CF life we have now.

No one with a brain and a heartbeat would buy that we had a 3X increase in GDP in ‘08 to justify the 3x increase in gov’t psending in ‘09 (i know, didn’t spend 3x more but you get the point)

Nathan_OH on December 30, 2009 at 8:47 PM

I was mostly kidding around as it could only be done at the margins and over time (0.5% extra growth per year adds up over decades). I should have added that as you did, just a general point.

The bigger problem I think with a hard link is that you’d be linking federal spending to the boom and bust cycle of the economy, which wouldn’t really work well. Emergencies would also be difficult to deal with since if you made any exceptions for them we’d have annual emergency conditions.

jarodea on December 31, 2009 at 1:16 PM

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

bill30097 on December 31, 2009 at 2:41 PM

I was mostly kidding around as it could only be done at the margins and over time (0.5% extra growth per year adds up over decades). I should have added that as you did, just a general point.

The bigger problem I think with a hard link is that you’d be linking federal spending to the boom and bust cycle of the economy, which wouldn’t really work well. Emergencies would also be difficult to deal with since if you made any exceptions for them we’d have annual emergency conditions.

jarodea on December 31, 2009 at 1:16 PM

Perhaps make it a rolling 10 year average or some other mechanism to counter the boom/bust cycle? Something to keep the government from outgrowing the real economy’s growth is needed.
As for emergencies, other than war, how many of them are truly large enough to impact the government’s bottom line if they do not go pork crazy on a “fix”?

Nathan_OH on December 31, 2009 at 5:21 PM