Opinion: The balanced budget amendment is a bad idea

Does Sept. 17 mean anything to you? Maybe it’s your birthday or your anniversary, but it’s also the day in 1787 that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia got together for the last time and signed the new United States Constitution. I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t think about it being Constitution Day myself when the day came and passed.

The original Constitution contains several different articles that divide it up and lay out the rules and responsibilities of the various branches of government. So you might think to yourself, “Well, there are three branches of government, so there are three articles right?” Actually, there are seven articles in total and one of them could lead to some interesting times in America. Let me introduce you to our little friend, Article Five.

Article Five lays out how the Constitution can be amended. The most popular way for an amendment to be added is for two-thirds of each chamber of Congress to approve it, and then for three-fourths of the states to approve it. In fact, this method is so popular that it’s how all 27 amendments have been proposed and ratified. However, Article Five does lay out another way an amendment can be added. It says that, “or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States,” which means that if two-thirds of the states agree to hold a convention and work out an amendment and it is then approved by three-fourths of the states, it would be added as an amendment.

When you look back at the frame of mind of the founding fathers this makes sense. They were afraid of a central government that could potentially fall away to a strong executive. They included this measure to provide the states a way to protect themselves should this happen. Well, in the 231 years since the Constitution was signed, the states have never called for such a convention…but it could be happening soon.

Now I’m no math expert, but I can tell you that two-thirds of fifty is 34. That means that all it takes is 34 states agreeing to hold a convention and one would have to be called. The convention can propose anything it wants but their proposal would still have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states, which is 38. While the convention can be called for any reason, most of the advocates for a convention are calling for a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA). If the BBA was enacted, the federal government would no longer be allowed to spend more than its income, which primarily comes from taxes on their own people. The BBA sounds like a good idea considering the national debt is currently over $21 trillion. However, if the BBA was enacted, there would be new, enormous problems that would plague our country.

For example, let’s say the BBA is enacted and the federal government can no longer spend more than it makes. One solution seems simple then: just don’t spend more than we make. It sounds easy enough, but it’s actually impossible. When someone says “government spending”, the first things that a lot people think of are welfare, military, and social security, among many other things. The problem is that only about 25 percent of U.S. government spending is discretionary spending, meaning that the government can choose how to spend the money. About 75 percent of it goes to paying off interest on our loans, social security, and several other mandatory things the government has to pay. So you can kiss any kind of discretionary spending goodbye. Don’t worry though, because it only means they would have to stop funding the military, healthcare, welfare, and just a few other small trivial things like federal college loans, disaster relief funds for natural tragedies, you know, nothing big at all. And since that still wouldn’t be enough to balance the budget, taxes would have to drastically be increased as well. Have I made my point? This would be a disaster for the United States and all its people.

So, the other solution is to have a drastic tax increase. By no means does anybody want to have their taxes raised, but it would mean that we would have a balanced budget and get to keep vital government services. The only problem is that we wouldn’t have a whole lot of money to spend ourselves on what we personally need or want. The late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” Taxes are a necessity in the U.S., but the government must be careful on how much it taxes its citizens.

“The balanced-budget amendment should be a no-brainer,” said former Congressman Chris Chocola. “Forty-nine of the 50 states are required to balance their budgets. Every family has to balance its budget. There is no argument against a balanced-budget amendment unless you are interested in spending more money and going deeper into debt — precisely where we find ourselves right now.”

While the former congressman has a point that families have to operate off a budget, comparing the simplicity of a family to the complexity of the budget of an international superpower is a dangerous, irresponsible comparison to make. Advocates for the BBA should instead urge the federal government to slowly find a healthy balance between spending cuts and tax increases. However, the government would have to take on massive reforms that would require them to take down their partisan blinders and work across the aisle to reform social security, military spending, and several other government programs. I strongly urge all of us to keep an active eye out for more states calling for the convention and urge their representatives to fight for spending reforms.

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