Republicans are preparing to make a big push for a balanced budget amendment, one of the party's most hypocritical and laughable ideas, Politico reported Wednesday.
A balanced budget amendment would restrain the federal government from spending more money each year than it collects through taxes. The amendment is a patently ridiculous idea, but Republicans love it.
First, the proposal is entirely hypocritical. Just in the past few months, the Republicans passed a tax bill expected to add around $1.5 trillion to the deficit in the next 10 years. Last week, it passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that is also expected to add to the deficit.
Republicans are also considering another round of tax cuts.
None of these options would have been open to Republicans had there existed a balanced budget amendment. Of course, they know the budget won't pass — that would require support from Democrats and three-fourths support from state legislatures. So they probably don't even believe in balanced budgets, but want to pretend to be the "fiscally responsible" party.
As it happens, a balanced budget amendment would be wildly irresponsible.
Paul Krugman put it like this:
"True, there have been times when being tough meant reducing deficits and resisting the temptation to print money. In a depressed economy, however, a balanced-budget fetish and a hard-money obsession are deeply irresponsible. Not only do they hurt the economy in the short run, they can — and in Europe, have — inflict long-run harm, damaging the economy’s potential and driving it into a deflationary trap that’s very hard to escape."
Running a deficit during a depression can help reduce job losses and ease the economic blow. Governments can reduce deficits and pay off debts when the economy is strong again. A balanced budget requirement would reduce the government's ability to manage economic crises.
There's no good reason for the government to have a strict balanced budget requirement even when the economy is strong. Businesses and families prudently go into debt all the time, after all, when there are worthwhile projects and items to invest in. Limiting the government's ability to likewise use deficit spending to invest in worthwhile programs is unnecessary and damaging.
When Republicans try to say that they're pushing for a balanced budget amendment to save the country, don't buy it. They've already proved they don't actually believe in the idea, and there's no good argument for it anyway.