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Barlow Herget Commentary
Barlow Herget is a commentator and host on State Government Radio at Curtis Media. He has been a commentator on UNC public radio and an instructor in continuing education at Duke University. Herget was a Nieman Fellow ('70) at Harvard University, has worked for the Daily Press of Paragould, Ark., the Detroit Free Press, and the News & Observer of Raleigh. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times and numerous other publications. Contact him by email.
Why the simple solution won't work with the budget
Thursday - 8/11/2011, 3:00pm EDT
State Government Radio
Ah, the simple solution. It is so tempting and tantalizing for Americans.
That's why we're such avid sports fans. In sports, you can spend days and weeks talking about a big game, who's going to win and why. When the day comes, you get an answer. There's a winner and a loser. Simple.
Complicated issues are more like algebra. They take more time and, bless our hearts, more thought. The current economic mess is a good example. We're up to our chest, if not neck, in debt and some of us—Tea Party conservatives especially—are not going to take it anymore. Ever.
So, what's their solution? Adopt a law to balance the budget. No, better than that, adopt a constitutional amendment to balance the budget! That will teach those big-spending congressmen and congresswomen. Tie their hands so they can't reach Uncle Sam's wallet.
Conservatives, for years, have been calling for such a simplistic approach, and Republicans have made it a litmus test for their presidential candidates (although winners never make it a priority once in office).
The 2010 election gave the balanced budget call new life in states across the country. The United States shall not spend more money than it takes in. Short and simple. Soooo tempting. But, as my son's camp motto says, "stop and think."
The country, historically, runs up deficits during wars. It has to buy armaments and material and do it in a hurry—even more so with today's Internet, lightning-paced warfare.
Dr. Karl Smith at the UNC School of Government says a balanced budget constitutional amendment would require the government to raise the money as it was spent. As in big tax hikes. But even with huge tax levies, there's almost no likelihood that Americans could pay for war without deficit spending.
A balanced budget amendment would cripple our defenses. It would also hamstring federal stimulus spending in hard times such as the Great Depression and today's stumbling economy. No WPA or CCC jobs. No loans to auto industries to jump-start their assembly lines.
The Republican answer to today's mess is to cut spending, balance the budget, and wait for the rich to buy something. Same as Herbert Hoover's. Today's deficit is a very real problem but cutting federal spending now will not create new jobs. It only creates more unemployment as it has done already.
The sane and thoughtful way out of this mess is to stimulate the economy with federal job creation, and once the economy is growing, then start reducing the deficit. It can be done. President Bill Clinton did it.
We don't need an unworkable, balanced budget constitutional amendment to do it.