The U.S political structure, like most countries, is divided along the very basics: the rules of taxation and government expenditure. The two parties are miles apart in their approach to dealing with annual budgetary challenges and such decisions are significantly politicized at the expense of sound and effective long-term decision making. Moreover, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the U.S Treasury is expected to shore up much of the revenue of Fiscal 2018 on interest repayments of the ballooning deficit than even on defense and other social programs like Medicaid and Social Security. In the light of the aforementioned issues, a Balanced Budget amendment to the US constitution would play a crucial role in providing much needed economic stability, reduce unnecessary and irresponsible spending and waste fraud and help lower the risks associated with a disproportionate deficit.
To put it simply, a Balanced Budget amendment would make it mandatory on the Federal Congress to come up with a set of taxation rules and government spending that results in an equilibrium between operating revenues and expenditures thereby reducing the annual borrowing requirements to pay up for the deficits. In other words, it will force Washington to live within its means.
There are many reasons to support this amendment. Recent political fights over the Federal budget reinstates the focus on the political gridlock that accompanies Washington. Firstly, as we saw in 2013, the fight over funding for Obamacare and in 2017, the clash over Immigration, caused government shutdowns as the two parties failed to reach consensus because of issues not directly related to everyday spending. This amendment would make it a constitutional prerogative for both parties to reach a deal without compromising other non partisan areas of government. Another benefit stems from the ever-increasing debt-ceiling problem in the way Congress appropriates spending. A debt-ceiling creates a limit on how much the Treasury can borrow to fund the deficit in the budgets. According to statistics by Business Insider, over the past ten years, the national debt of the United States government has grown from $9.4 trillion to over $21 trillion over the past ten years-a whopping 123%. With this amendment, Congress would eliminate the need to raise the debt-ceiling which will be integral also to the national security and sovereignty of the U.S. as most debt is owed to other countries. Furthermore, the crux of the amendment lies with healthy economic policy construction. Currently, almost forty-nine of the fifty states have some form of balanced-budget rules. The impetus to this reform views an economic model that is sustainable and does not limit successive governments with the debts of the previous ones. The amendment would impose on Congress the legal barriers in budgetary decisions which will result in bipartisanship in the legislature as both parties would be constitutionally obliged to follow the rule.
To enshrine this as a constitutional amendment is required for several key reasons. To begin with, as President Lincoln used with the passage of the thirteenth amendment for the abolition of slavery, anything which is a part of the constitution becomes universal. This means that it stands the test of time, political and social change and even the changing power structures in government. Coupled with this rationale, the process to amend the constitution is long and tiresome compared to a legislative bill which can be easily repealed with a majority vote. Something which is as crucial as the economic mechanism of the country should not be passed by Congress because it would deprive it of the stability that it was meant to establish in the first place. Moreover, to answer the critics question of constitutional outreach in policy making, we have already seen significant Supreme Court cases where the judiciary regulated the economic landscape such as the use of the Commerce clause for inter-state trade. Hence, a balanced budget amendment would only achieve its purpose with a constitutional mandate.
We all know that Congress is broken. And this is the reason that this amendment, despite being brought up several times, has never passed. This is also because the issue is inherently political in nature with economic conservatives supporting it widely unlike those on the left. The movement for this amendment started with the ‘Great Society’ program of President Johnson and even today, fiscal conservatives champion it especially after the passage of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017 under President Trump. Meanwhile, Democrats like Minority Leader Pelosi said in reference to Republicans and the amendment, ‘Their real goal is to end Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as we know it.’ The budget is the foundation of all legislative outcomes in any government and a call to rein in spending will always have critics no matter what. Moreover, the latest amendment to the constitution passed almost three decades ago. Those were less divisive times.The rise of the tea party and the Trump Republicans and even the Democratic Socialists means that extremist agendas have infiltrated our government making reform less likely. In addition, the economic collapse in 2008 and the massive hurricanes in 2017 required swift flow of additional expenditure, meaning that unexpected events which require sudden government spending make it difficult to pass this amendment. Congress needs to act soon.If such deficits and debts continue to grow, we are not far from another economic catastrophe similar to 2008-9.
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The Wall Street Journal. 11 November 2018.
Will, George F. “America needs a balanced-budget amendment.” The Washington Post. 3 January 2018
King, Colbert I. “A debt-ceiling crisis is on its way. Yes, again.” The Washington Post. 4 August 2017
Berman, Russell. “The Real Reasons Why the Government Shut Down.” The Atlantic. 20 January 2018
Collins, Michael. “The national debts and the federal deficit are skyrocketing. How it affects you.” USA Today. 16 October 2018
Black, Simon. “The US’ national debt is rising 36% faster than the economy.” Business Insider. 21 March 2018
Samito, Christian. “Lincoln’s Struggle with The Thirteenth Amendment. Forbes.” 6 December 2015
Golshan, Tara. “House Republicans are voting to make deficits unconstitutional after their $1.5 trillion tax cut.” Vox. 12 April 2018.