Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is it time for a balanced budget amendment?

That's the Scripps Howard column topic this week. Ben and I note: "The current proposal -- introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., -- would require the government to spend no more than it takes in, but it doesn't stop there. It would limit government expenditures to 18 percent of the gross domestic product, and require a two-thirds majority of Congress to approve any tax increase. The government could depart from those guidelines only when the country is at war."

My take:
Tea Partiers and conservatives make a big show of their fealty to the Founders, but the proposed balanced budget amendment is a big slap in the face of Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton, after all, urged Americans to adopt the Constitution precisely because it gave Congress unlimited power of taxation.

Limiting that power, he said, would leave the central government weak and toothless, unable to provide for the common good. He knew what he was talking about -- the Articles of Confederation that previously governed the country so restricted Congress' taxing power that it was unable to pay America's Revolutionary War debts.

"The federal government," Hamilton wrote in Federalist 31, "must of necessity be invested with an unqualified power of taxation in the ordinary modes."

He added: "How is it possible that a government half supplied and always necessitous, can fulfill the purposes of its institution, can provide for the security, advance the prosperity, or support the reputation of the commonwealth? How can it ever possess either energy or stability, dignity or credit, confidence at home or respectability abroad? ... How can it undertake or execute any liberal or enlarged plans of public good?"

Somebody should run these questions past the GOP, which seems not to care these days about the "dignity or credit" of the federal government. If Hamilton was right, the proposed balanced budget amendment -- which makes it virtually impossible to raise or levy new taxes -- would return America to the days of being a weak, fractious country with a weak, fractious government.

Balanced budgets are good things in times of peace and prosperity -- something Republicans forgot under George W. Bush. They can be actively harmful during wars or recessions. The proposed amendment addresses only half that equation, and is thus a danger to America's future.

The Founders knew better; too bad today's GOP doesn't.
Ben's take: He's agin' it too, but for different reasons.

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