Blue Dog Democrats endorse balanced budget amendment

The depressingly habitual struggles of the Super Committee to cut a mere $1.2 trillion of federal borrowing over the next 10 years invite anyone who considers out-of-control spending a problem to look to other solutions. As Allah implicitly predicted with his exit question yesterday, one such solution is constitutional reform — and the principal proposal for such reform is the balanced budget amendment.

A BBA with spending caps and a supermajority requirement to raise taxes would force massive spending cuts, including to entitlement programs. Depending on your perspective, that’s a positive. If you’re in the camp that considers the now-$15 trillion debt and the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio to be an enormous drain on the economy, costing about 1 percent growth a year, which translates into about 1 million jobs, then spending cuts — however massive — would come as a welcome relief. If you’re in the camp that fears austerity measures could send us back into a recession, a constitutional measure to ensure cuts would seem dangerous and disastrous.

Nobody wants to have to retrench so much as to actually feel the pinch. Everybody would prefer to roll back spending gradually. But Congress repeatedly proves it’s incapable of even the slow-and-steady-spending-cut route. So, talk of a BBA is continually bandied about.

In this particular political climate — in which the majority of Americans actually favor a balanced budget amendment — opposition to a BBA isn’t politically smart. Blue Dog Democrats have known that — and been worried about it for a while. So it’s no surprise, really, that, today, the Blue Dog coalition in Congress announced that they would, in fact, endorse the balanced budget currently under consideration in Congress. The Hill reports:

“We were advancing a balanced budget amendment when balanced budget amendments weren’t cool,” Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), told reporters on a conference call. …

“If any Blue Dog does not vote for it, I’d have to question how much they’re a Blue Dog,” [Blue Dog Rep. Jim] Matheson [D-UT] said.

Here’s the catch, though: The BBA presently under consideration is a far cry from the BBA featured in the Republican Study Committee’s “Cut, Cap and Balance” initiative. It lacks the spending caps and supermajority requirement to raise taxes — so it’s highly implausible that it will force spending cuts at all.

By bringing up a clean BBA for a vote, all Republicans have done is give Blue Dogs cover. Better by far to have voted on an amendment with caps and a supermajority requirement. Had Blue Dogs voted against that, Republicans could have explained to their constituents that their supposedly conservative Democratic representative opposed a measure the American people largely support.

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