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Witness says balanced budget amendments won't help.

Witnesses told Congress last week that a balanced budget Constitutional amendment would do little to deal with the federal deficit, but much to make the federal government even less responsive and responsible in carrying out its responsibilities.

The various pending proposals provide no procedures to reduce the deficit. Instead, they would make it more difficult for Congress to adopt a budget, and far more difficult for the federal government to respond to a crisis--such as assisting the citizens of Los Angeles recover from the riot, or after the hurricane in South Carolina or the earthquake in northern California.

Under the House proposal, Congress would be prohibited from raising the national debt without a three-fifths majority.

Robert Reischauer, the Director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last week testified before Congress that passage of a proposed Constitutional amendment on a balanced budget would force the federal government to abdicate its role of responding to disasters and stabilizing the economy during recessions. He said such an amendment would be a "cruel hoax" on American taxpayers that would do more to cover up than reduce record breaking federal deficits:

"In this election year, it would be a cruel hoax to suggest to the American public that one more procedural promise in the form of a Constitutional amendment is going to get the job done. The deficit cannot be brought down without making painful decisions to cut specific programs and raise particular taxes."

Because the proposed amendments provide no procedure nor mechanism to reduce the deficit, nor any enforcement plan, Reischauer warned that it would lead to a new proliferation of budget gimmickry and wholesale impositions of enormous, unfunded mandates on state and local governments:

He said the amendment is "little more than an empty promise, one that further erodes public confidence in our political institutions."

Testifying at the same hearing, President Bush's budget director, Richard Darman, stated the administration's strong support for such an amendment, but strong opposition to adding any enforcement mechanisms or to any tax increases to comply. The administration, which has requested both the largest one year and largest long term deficits of any administration in American history, has never proposed a balanced budget.

But on Thursday House Budget Committee Chairman Leon Panetta (D-Ca) made clear he is leaning towards proposing an enforcement mechanism - such as forcing automatic cuts in entitlement programs and automatic increases in federal tax rates in any year in which the budget is not balanced--in order to remove an "easy" vote and force members to take responsibility for the consequences.

Both the House and Senate appear to be moving closer to adopting and sending to the states a Constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget. The House voted overhelmiongly Wednesday night to instruct the House to vote on such an amendment by June 6. The Senate could take up its version of such an amendment this month. The House might take up the Senate version or one proposed by Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Tex.).

The Senate measure would require a three-fifths majority of Congress to over-ride the balanced budget requirement in any year. It does not provide any enforcement mechanism nor any means to reduce the record federal deficits.

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kans.) warned her Senate colleagues that if adopted, it could cause the complete elimination of state and local aid, accelerating the increase in unfunded federal mandates. Kassebaum said:

"The political appeal of the amendment is obvious. It permits strong public advocacy of a balanced federal budget without necessitating public advocacy of the extremely unpopular steps necessary to accomplish the goal. The balanced budget amendment is a politician's delight --it's popular, it's safe, and so far it's fooled most of the people most of the time."
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Title Annotation:federal deficit
Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 11, 1992
Words:621
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