Because 82 percent of American earners pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes, no politically conceivable or economically feasible middle-class tax rate can fund the entitlement state. And America’s political culture rules out funding it with new consumption or energy taxes. By rescuing almost everyone from the restoration of Clinton-era rates, liberals abandoned any pretense of paying for their program of ever- expanding entitlements. Instead, they made trillion-dollar deficits their program.

From 1950 to 2000, economic growth averaged 3.6 percent; since then, it has averaged less than 2 percent. Liberals think today’s correlation between the slow economic growth and rapid governmental growth — including under George W. Bush — is a coincidence. Conservatives do not. And they note some recent actions, done in December’s bright light of public attention and fiscal anxiety, which indicate that this government’s indiscipline is incorrigible and shameless. …

Sixty-seven Senate votes are needed to send a proposed amendment to the states for ratification. There are 45 Republican senators. There are nowhere near 22 Democrats who would vote for an amendment Republicans could support. Still, Republicans, whose divisions cause Democratic gloating, could use a balanced-budget amendment to divide Democrats who threw the remnants of their fiscal self-respect off the cliff.