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Haupt’s Commentary: Is a balanced budget a reality or just a good talking point?

“I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government; I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.” ~Thomas Jefferson

It is not easy to amend the US Constitution. That it has only been done 27 times in the history of our nation demonstrates that the process is reserved only for the most crucial legal or human rights issues.

Many of these have been a consequence of societal evolution to address a need that developed as a result of an event or group of events that our founders did not foresee or predict. Considering it is the longest reigning constitution in the world,  it was written to withstand the test of time.

It also validates the wisdom and insightfulness of our forefathers when they gathered in Independence Hall to establish and predicate the rules for our country. And to make sure it was enjoined as intended, we elected General George Washington as our 1st president. Upon taking office he said: “The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.”

The U. S. Constitution is the most difficult in the world to amend. There have been over 10,000 proposed amendments. Yet less than one-half percent have passed the filibusters of Congress and the scrutiny of the citizenry.

A good idea is not enough. It must meet the rigid requirements for passing in both Houses and ratified by three-quarters of the states. If not, it will rest for eternity in the legislative grave yard of good intentions. In today’s divided political climate, since it’s impossible for Congress to agree on anything, we’ll probably never see another amendment in our lifetime. An amendment to outlaw “J-walking” on the freeway could not pass one chamber!

“If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?” ~Thomas Jefferson

Amendments have occurred in periods of intense social pressure. The Constitution was amended 10 times in 1791 to create the Bill of Rights. Later, during Reconstruction, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, and the 14th granted equal treatment under the law in 1868. And the 15th enfranchised former slaves in 1870.

shutterstock_219829600The next wave came during the progressive era. The 16th authorized the dreaded federal income tax in 1913, and in the same year the 17th created direct elections for U.S. Senators to raise them! The enigmatic 18th outlawed alcohol in 1919 and after a feminist war waged on Congress the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote in 1920.

Upon its passage Suzan B. Anthony proclaimed: “No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent.” And today more women go to the polls each election than men.

But after 1930 we would not see an aggressive period of amendments until the tumultuous 1960s. America adopted the 23rd Amendment in 1961 to give Washington, D.C. a voice in the Electoral College, the 24th Amendment in 1964 to protect civil rights. The 25th passed in 1967 to clarifying rules of presidential succession. But there have only been two amendments since 1967. Many attribute this to the abrupt change in political philosophy following the boom years of “Reaganism.”

Following the success of the Reagan era proved to be impossible for successors who could not resist the temptation to appease special interest groups that felt deprived because they did not take advantage of the many opportunities during the economic boom years! And this is when we saw the emergence of what many call identity politics; an ideology that stresses strong group identity on personal need rather than collective responsibility.

And this has continued to fester for over two decades. It has created such a political divide: our government is dysfunctional and those in power now only try to appease and maintain a base which is demanding more freebies everyday. And this has created the catastrophic economic holocaust that we are currently facing! Now we are printing money just to pay the interest on our debt!

“The budget is like a mythical bean bag. Congress votes mythical beans into it, then reaches in and tries to pull real ones out.” ~Will Rodgers

Article 1, Section 8, of our Constitution clearly states Congress is obligated to pay its debts which is the first thing that must take place in order to have a balanced budget. And a sundry of balanced budget amendments have been introduced throughout the years. But none have seen the day light of the assembly room window, let alone the scrutiny of the demanding citizenry.

Why do our States have a balanced budget decree in their constitutions, but even balancing a check book is a foreign concept to Congress? And why must our states live within their means, yet Congress goes after us to pay their bills every time they step outside theirs? How long do they think they can fool us with this convoluted illogical logic? Is this the “new math” syllabus of Common Core? Beyond a doubt, Congress has lowered the intellectual bar: “The new dumb, is now wisdom.” (A. Liccione)

shutterstock_143462737We obviously have a problem if Congress hasn’t attempted to pass a balanced budget amendment since Calvin Coolidge first proposed one in 1928. And Congress reacted quite unfavorably.  Both parties seem to be disinterested on this novel approach to managing “taxpayers’ money.”

The GOP has been stumbling aimlessly though in-party debate on the best way to delicately limit spending without offending anyone. They want to be “tough guys” and still be everyone’s friend. And the Left, recognizing a threat to big government and a base that is excessively dependent on hand outs, has stalled and obfuscated all attempts for fiscal reform. The result has been a stand off that continues to push us closer to cell block “A” in “debtor’s prison”! Senator Robert Byrd once remarked, “Is it any wonder, why the approval ratings of the Congress go up every time we go into recess?”

George Bernard Shaw reminded us: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” And nobody expects this newly resuscitated Congress to work miracles since many are retread establishment parliamentarians. But they have a huge bucket list. And a balanced budget amendment is overdue.

This should be near the top of their agenda right behind our demands to exterminate Obamacare! Historically, when republican governments have failed, it has been through the charade of share-the-wealth programs. Citizens put blind faith in politicians to do the right thing and took no initiative to speak up when spending got out of hand.

“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one.” ~James Madison

The over-spending of our federal government has been a topic of discussion for years. But most people have no clue of the damage this borrowing and spending has done to our country or the impending consequences. People are irrationally convinced we can borrow and spend forever. And nobody will listen to the few who have spoken up and warned us of this imminent crisis!

That’s because no politician ever got elected by promising voters their entitlements would be cut. Political popularity is dependent on promising voters precisely what they want and our nation cannot afford. Jarod Kintz said: “This is America: Every vote counts: Sometimes twice, if it helps me get elected.”

When Coolidge first lobbied for a balanced budget amendment he told Congress: “Nothing is easier than spending public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody.”

Will we learn to control it or continue to let it control us?

William Haupt III

William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, citizen legislator in California for 40 plus years, and author. He got his start working to approve prop 13.

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Commentary, Opinion, Policy
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