John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


DeMint The Moderate

Posted on July 8, 2011
Is Jim DeMint becoming a moderate?

I ask that question because his insistence that a balanced budget amendment be included in any extension of the debt limit is not really that conservative.

Indeed, if you look at it clearly, attaching a balanced budget amendment to the debt limit will not cut a dime of spending.

Here’s why: it is highly unlikely that the states will pass such an amendment, and if they do, it won’t be for at least five years.

Every state, other than Vermont, has to statutorily balance their budget every year. It is often said that if a state has to balance its budget then why shouldn’t the federal government balance its budget?

Well, the big reason that states are able to balance their budgets is because of money that comes in from the feds. Now, governors will say with that money comes too many unfunded mandates. That may be true, but money is money, and the states would rather get the money than not get the money.

If the Federal government is forced to balance its budget, the first place it will look is the money it sends to the states. Programs include Medicare, highway funding, education funding, community block grants, housing funding, homeland security funding, etc. etc. etc.

The states know where their bread is being buttered. I might be reading this wrong, but I would be very surprised if three quarters of the states are going to ratify a federal balanced budget to the Constitution. And that is what will be required if the BBA is enacted under the Constitution.

Now, there are all kinds of procedural problems with the DeMint approach. A balanced budget amendment requires 2/3rds of both chambers to approve it before it goes to the states. A balanced budget amendment doesn’t require a Presidential signature, so attaching it to a debt limit extension makes no sense. A balanced budget amendment is a Joint Resolution, while a debt limit extension is an H.R. or an S.R. (depending who goes first) which is kind of like mixing apples and oranges.

But despite all of those procedure hurdles, requiring that the Congress pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution as pre-condition to increasing the debt ceiling is actually a very artful dodge. It’s putting off the very difficult budget decisions for a time far in the future (or perhaps never, if the states act like I expect them to act)

The far more difficult decision is to start to cut spending now. It is far more conservative to take a whack on entitlement and discretionary now, rather than insisting on some procedural changes sometime in the future.

My own view is that we should take this opportunity to cut real spending now, and not hope that the states enact a balanced budget later in the decade. But I can see why DeMint would want to avoid those really tough cuts. Polls show that most Americans don’t really want us to scale back funding on Social Security and Medicare.

I am a little surprised that South Carolina’s junior Senator is taking a more moderate position when it comes to extending the debt limit.