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.