If conservatives had a real victory in the debate about raising the debt ceiling, it was in getting Congress members of both parties to support a balanced budget amendment.
The House actually passed this as a part of the Cut, Cap and Balance bill. It would have required Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment and send it to the states for ratification before raising the debt ceiling. A number of congressional Democrats voiced support during the debate. This is progress for conservatives — who believe the basic proposition that government should not spend beyond its means.
Now, there are rumblings on Capitol Hill that Congress may consider another balanced budget amendment vote. To most Americans, Congress committing to a vote on a balanced budget amendment sounds just dandy. But beware: Not all balanced budget amendments are created equal.
The version attached to the House Republicans’ Cut, Cap and Balance bill was sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Orin Hatch (R-Utah). It required a supermajority to use tax increases to balance the nation’s books.
This element is critical. Congress has proven its inability to show spending restraint, especially when there’s a prospect of a tax increase ahead. By raising the bar for passing new taxes through a balanced budget amendment, this dangerous, and irresponsible, option is more difficult to do.
In the back halls of Congress though, there are now whispers that Republicans are considering bringing a “tax increase BBA,” which requires only a simple majority to raise taxes, to the floor. If the GOP goes for a tax increase BBA, not only will they be enabling liberals to make permanent President Barack Obama’s spending binge — highlighted by the failed stimulus and Obamacare — but they will also give vulnerable Democrats political cover to help keep their jobs in November, 2012.
Republicans won’t be so lucky. Many will likely be signing their political death certificates.
Conservatives have won the argument that the root problem of our debt is — surprise! — that the government spends too much. Conceding that hard-fought win by passing a tax increase balanced budget amendment would be nothing short of foolish.
If the GOP allows a vote on the tax increase BBA, they will not only be offering liberals in Congress job security, they will likely go to war with their own base. Because conservatives and the tea party understand a tax increase BBA is simply window dressing for a massive tax increase to pay for the Obama spending binge.
Forty-nine governors are now required by state constitutions to balance their books every year. The federal government should be required to do the same.
With its failure to deal with our basic fiscal issues during the budget showdown this spring, and again in the fight over raising the debt ceiling, Congress has proven it cannot cut real spending voluntarily. The only way the American people can ensure that the federal government cuts the astronomical levels of spending, now drowning the economy and future generations in debt, is to force Congress to balance the budget through a BBA.
It is up to fiscal conservatives to keep the heat on the GOP. Hill Republicans shouldn’t cave and offer liberals a chance to make their reckless spending a permanent part of the budget; while punishing taxpayers with evermore crushing taxes to pay for the government’s irresponsibility.
Brent Bozell is chairman of ForAmerica, the online conservative organization.
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