Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Two more reasons a Balanced Budget Amendment is a terrible idea

Here is an explanation for why the Republican balanced budget amendment is a really bad idea.  It was posted by political scientist Jonathan Bernstein on his Plain Blog About Politics.  Bernstein points out that not only would a balanced budget amendment be unworkable, it would be unenforceable. 

On the one hand, the whole notion of forcing the government to balance its budget is actually, in practice, impossible to implement. That's because much of what the government spends, and even more of what it takes in, are impossible to "budget" in any kind of exact way before the fact. That's because, under the way things are currently done, all we have at the beginning of a fiscal year are estimates of how fixed law will react with various economic and other facts to produce spending and revenue. Given that the best you can do at the beginning of the year are estimates, a BBA has two choices. It can require the budget to be balanced going into the fiscal year, but if it does that it will only encourage Congress and the president to use phony estimates (which aren't hard to do -- really, all you need are economic rosy scenarios). Or, you can require that the budget be balanced after the fact. But that's extremely difficult. Suppose revenues run short because the economy underperformed. Is the government going to demand highway funds that were paid out months ago? Have seniors mail back their Social Security checks? Impose a retroactive surtax? Really? It just doesn't work.

Now, the even worse part. How does this thing get enforced, anyway? The obvious answer is: through the courts. That's obviously a terrible idea; the courts shouldn't be involved in regular government budgeting at all, really, and they certainly shouldn't be doing the budgeting themselves. But how else do such things get enforced? Presumably, if any BBA passes the next thing that happens are appeals to the courts to get definitions of "budget," "balance," and everything else tossed in there.

That’s an interesting take on the balanced budget amendment idea I had not considered before.

Check on Bernstein’s blog at :

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