McConnell Doubles Down on the Balanced Budget Amendment Parlor Trick

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 18 2011 3:47 PM

McConnell Doubles Down on the Balanced Budget Amendment Parlor Trick

The GOP's leader in the Senate used his opening remarks today to make the case for the Cut, Cap, and Balance pledge in a too-clever-by-half political way. "By my count, 23 Democrats have led voters to believe they supported such an amendment."

We've been over this. The Democrats who backed a BBA in the past backed a different version with fewer restrictions. When I asked McConnell's office how that count of 23 Democrats was conducted -- keep in mind, if 23 Democrats backed the amendment, it would pass with 70 votes -- some of the evidence just didn't hold up. For example, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Col., is included in that number, but Udall has his own version of the BBA, which doesn't include the limitations on tax hikes that the Cut, Cap, and Balance version does. That version limits spending to 18 percent of GDP; Udall limits it to 20 percent. For now, Republicans are ignoring the Democrats who might go along with a BBA and getting them on the record voting against one, teeing them up for "flip-flop" TV ads in 2012.

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You can't understate what a non-starter the CCB version of the amendment is. Last week I asked Chris Coons, the freshman from Delaware who's one of the party's most consistent budget hawks, whether or not he could support it. He said no.

"The historic average of spending relative to GDP is above 18 percent," said Coons, "but let's just take, for the sake of argument, their supposition that on average, for the last forty years, spending has been 18 percent of GDP. That's great. But we're trying to budget for the next 40 years, not the last 40 years. And in the past decade, we went through $1 trillion of war expenditures that have not been paid for, a dramatic expansion of Medicare -- Part D -- significant new health care programs, and we have the biggest demographic bulge in American history coming up. It's unreasonable to expect we can keep federal spending at 18 percent of revenue and not have to make dramatic cuts in benefits."

Since the amendment has no chance of passage, that part of the argument will never get hashed out.

 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.