This week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on consideration of a “balanced budget amendment” to the constitution. The concept of a balanced budget amendment has become a popular topic in the political landscape, especially in the recent partisan squabbles over the debt ceiling. Conceptually a balanced budget amendment would mandate that the federal government not spend more than it takes in. Proponents often use the metaphor of us who balance their checkbooks each month when paying bills and budgeting expenses to illustrate this point. However we also all know that the federal government’s budget is far more complicated than a simple check book balance. Currently there are a few legislative proposals on the table, but none of which any of the hearing witnesses would emphatically support in their current state.
The hearing continued along the same path as many others by quickly devolving into partisan squabbling between members. Each period of bickering was fraught with anecdotal “evidence” from each side to support their positions, often involving stories of wanting to protect their grandchildren or suffering seniors in their district. But perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the hearing involved a discussion of when any sort of balanced budget amendment would actually effect the federal budget directly, without even taking into consideration the amount of time it would take Congress to actually pass a bill and then ratify the constitution, this alone will take years. But even after ratification most members of the panel agree that a balanced budget amendment would need to be “eased in” and should take 5-10 years before implementation. 5-10 years? On top of the years it will take for ratification? What about right now?
We are facing a double-dip recession, unemployment is at disastrous levels, Congress can barely pass even small continuing resolutions without the threat of yet another shut down and here we are debating an issue that right now is simply a conceptual conversation. The bickering throughout the hearing, and the divisive tone throughout member and witness statements only tells us that healthy debate between partisan members is seemingly impossible. What do Americans have to do to convince their representatives that this is the last thing we need right now? We need something, anything to support the hope that Congress is at least attempting to work together to solve our economic crisis. But all too often, hearings like these, simply degrade our hopes even further.