The 'Party of Ideas' ... From 20 Years Ago

The GOP’s latest new, old idea is the balanced budget amendment.

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Then-House Speaker NewtGingrich of Ga., gestures while addressing a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington in this April 7, 1995 file photo, on the completion of the Republicans "ContractwithAmerica."

I wrote in my column a few weeks back that conservatives seem stuck in the 1990s. The NRA swaggers like the organization that could claim credit for taking down so many Democratic members of Congress … nearly two decades ago; House Republicans—including some from the class of 1994, apparently trying to relive their, uh, inglory years—are openly aching for a government shutdown; some even want an impeachment. It almost begs the question: What hoary policy proposal will they summon out of the Gingrich years next? The answer is apparently the Balanced Budget Amendment.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

My old bloleague Scott Galupo, now at The American Conservative, flags the news that the GOP is going to try to write a balanced budget into the Constitution, including a supermajority requirement for raising taxes and raising the debt ceiling. Scott writes:

Just as problematic is the institutional folly that the BBA represents. Instead of reasserting democratic control over fiscal policy, as had been the plan until five minutes ago, a BBA regime would take us in the opposite direction  – toward newly empowered judges. The literature on how a BBA would invite judicial interference into fiscal policy is vast — for a taste, see Ed Meese, Walter Dellinger , and Peter H. Schuck – and, to my lights, dispositive. But that’s not all. The executive branch, too, would potentially gain new authority over spending — which the Goldwater Institute, strangely, sees as a feature rather than a bug.

And David Frum points out perhaps the biggest problem with the scheme:

A cap on spending, especially one at 18 percent, also means recessions will be turning into depressions. The automatic stabilizers that have induced such deep deficits since 2008, especially unemployment insurance, would be capped under such a plan. Without that spending to prop up demand, expect the boom and bust cycle to get worse.

Even former U.S. News-er Jim Pethokoukis questions the realism of this idea. And you know something extraordinary is going on if I’m approvingly citing Jimmy P.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Does the United States Need a Balanced Budget Amendment?]

So which 1990s era bad idea will the GOP pull out of its policy posterior next? I suppose they have to wait until the Defense of Marriage Act has actually been overturned or repealed before they try to revive it. Maybe a flag burning amendment?

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