George Will | Shackling the spenders

The arguments against a constitutional amendment to require balanced budgets are various and, cumulatively, almost conclusive. Almost. The main arguments are:

The Constitution should be amended rarely and reluctantly. Constitutionalizing fiscal policy is a dubious undertaking. Unless carefully crafted, such an amendment might instead be a constant driver of tax increases. A carefully crafted amendment that minimizes this risk could not pass until Republicans have two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress, which they have not had since 1871.

Furthermore, requiring a balanced budget would incite creative bookkeeping that would make a mockery of the amendment and the Constitution. For example, New York, which like 48 other states (all but Vermont) has some sort of requirement for a balanced budget, once balanced its by selling Attica Prison to itself: A state agency established to fund urban redevelopment borrowed $200 million in the bond market, gave the money to the state and took title to the prison. The state recorded as income the  $200?million, declared the budget balanced, then rented the prison from the agency for a sum adequate to service the $200 million debt.

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