by Thomas Scovill
When it comes to fiscal responsibility, are Representatives Martha Roby (R, AL2) and Spencer Bachus (R, AL6) saying on thing and doing something else? If so, they seem to have lots of company in the Alabama House delegation.
Representative Bachus has said “the number one priority of the new Congress must be to finally put America’s fiscal house in order” and “the overspending that we are seeing is unsustainable and is a threat not just to our economy, but our national security.”
Representative Roby has said “the long-term solution to our country’s debt problem is requiring Washington politicians to pass a balanced budget every year.”
To promote fiscal responsibility, Rep. Bachus is a cosponsor of a balanced budget constitutional amendment (BBCA), HJRes 2 sponsored by Bob Goodlatte (R, VA). And Rep. Roby is planning to introduce a BBCA of her own.
A balanced budget constitutional amendment would be no panacea.
First, while Democrats control the US Senate the prospects of one being approved by Congress and passed to the states for ratification are bleak. In 2011 as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Senate voted down a House passed BBCA. The states are not likely to have the opportunity to ratify a BBCA until 2015 at the earliest, and then only if the Republicans control the US Senate.
Second, even if ratified by the states, the BBAC would not take effect immediately. For instance, the Goodlatte BBCA allows five years before its provisions kick in. That would be 2020 at the earliest.
The Goodlatte proposal has other provisions which will limit its effectiveness. It requires a three-fifths majority to increase the debt limit, but this applies only to debt held by the public and does not apply to intergovernmental debt such as Social Security. Also, in requiring a balance between outlays and receipts, outlays on debt principal are excluded from the calculation. This means that even if the amendment works as intended, the budget would not actually have to be balanced.
Calls for a balance budget constitutional amendment are a distraction from more serious issues that require immediate attention.
One recent issue was appropriations for Hurricane Sandy relief. HR41 and HR152 which were passed by the GOP controlled House on January 4 and January 15 respectively and together provided $60 billion in additional spending. Hurricane Sandy relief spending should have been dealt with as an “emergency” to circumvent regular order and bust the budget. Although most of the money will not even be spent in fiscal year 2013, every member of the Alabama House delegation supported this budget busting, so-called emergency spending in one way or another.
All except Mr. Brooks voted for the $10 billion appropriation in HR41. And Alabama House Republicans Bachus and Bonner voted for final passage of HR152 and its $50 billion appropriation.
All six Alabama House Republicans voted for the rule which stacked the deck in favor of HR152 being passed and against amendments calling for the spending to be offset by cuts in other parts of the budget. In voting for the rule, Mr. Brooks voted against his own amendment to use foreign aid for an additional $21 billion in offsets. Mr. Brooks was the only Alabama Republican to vote for the Mulvaney Amendment which called for some $17 billion in offsets.
And although all Alabama Republicans voted against the Frelinghuysen (R, NJ) amendment which added $33 billion to the $17 billion of the base bill, other Republicans sided with the vast majority of Democrats to pass it.
At some point, those who actually believe deficit spending is a threat to our economy and national security should actually vote the way they talk. But so far in 2013, when it comes to fiscal responsibility, our Alabama House Republicans have talked large and voted small.
HJRes2 Goodlatte BBCA.