Blue Dog Dems getting nervous about the balanced-budget amendment

If Republicans want to push even more Democrats out of Congress next year, one Democrat has suggested a strategy to succeed. The Hill reports that Blue Dog Democrats have begun to worry that Republicans will win the 2012 debate by backing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, especially with an electorate so skeptical of government spending.  Rep. Henry Cuellar recommends that Democrats come up with their own BBA plan, and quickly:

Democrats in Congress are urging their party leaders to get behind a balanced-budget amendment (BBA), fearing that Republicans will use the issue as a political weapon in 2012.

President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress have spoken out against the need for such a measure, but rank-and-file members claim they are falling into a GOP trap.

Instead of speaking out against balancing the budget, Obama and the Democratic leadership should embrace a centrist BBA measure, some Democrats say.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who introduced a proposal that gained support within the conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, said he expects Republicans to use the BBA against Democrats on the campaign trail.

“Well, certainly if I was [the GOP], I would use this as a way of going after Democrats,” Cuellar said in an interview with The Hill. “And this is why the more centrist Blue Dogs have come out and done this.”

Cuellar’s correct about this, but he probably won’t get much traction from a leadership that wants to continue its deficit-spending spree.  Barack Obama has hinted that Congress just needs a little self-discipline, a rather laughable assertion from a President that has offered a series of budget proposals that ran more than a trillion dollars in the red.  Nancy Pelosi knows that Congress can’t hike taxes high enough to cover the deficit spending level that her leadership produced, and a BBA would require serious cuts in spending — including in entitlement programs.

That’s why the Democratic party leadership might pay a little lip service to the concept of a balanced budget, but won’t advance any proposals for it, at least not the current leadership.  That does leave Republicans with a wide opening to paint the Democrats as the party of deficit spending, as Cuellar fears, and we’re already seeing that strategy play out in the presidential race.  Practically every candidate has mentioned a BBA in the debates, some repeatedly, as a means to get spending under control.  Moreover, unlike a lot of economic and fiscal policies, the concept of a BBA isn’t so wonky as to escape understanding by voters.  The idea that people shouldn’t spend more than they have is a principle that at least informs their daily lives, even if the level of consumer debt shows that it doesn’t rule their lives.  Most people think government should have to live within its means, just like any other person or organization in the US.

If Cuellar can’t convince his party’s leadership that the days of wine and roses are over, then his party will lose significant ground once again in the next election — and that will likely produce a new set of party leaders that understand the prevailing mood of the electorate a little better than Obama and Pelosi.

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