There's really no need for a balanced budget amendment

Tape measure around dollar bills

Let’s face facts.

There will never be, and should never be, a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Can we please stop talking about this?

The idea for a balanced budget amendment springs from the notion that government can be run like a business or individual household.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The federal government collects taxes and transfers payments to other areas of economic need.

The government provides public goods for society, such as our military, firefighters, police, teachers and elected officials, as well as street lights, garbage collection, parks and, most recently, FEMA relief for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The government also provides a safety net for those who can’t afford basic necessities like housing, health care and food.

Unfortunately, government supports are considered a pariah by some, illustrated by the GOP's attempt to force deep cuts in domestic programs like FEMA to balance the budget.

The framers of our Constitution created an amendment process that includes many hurdles.

According to, there’s been over 11,000 attempts at creating a new amendment, and only 27 passed since 1789 — and the first 10 were done at one time.

Subtract the two for Prohibition, and that’s 15 in over 200 years. Intuitively, the probability of getting Congress to pass something that doesn’t have universal appeal to the electorate is zero.

That's why it makes me crazy when I see Republicans touting their “Plan for America,” headlining a balanced budget amendment proposal.

When you go through a recession like the one we just went through, GDP falls, income falls, tax receipts fall, deficits balloon and the debt grows.

Economic shocks like Hurricane Sandy costs billions of dollars that contribute to the deficit.

A balanced budget amendment is nothing more than a political gimmick that would handcuff government's ability to function and boost the economy when it needs it the most.

Requiring a balanced budget during severe recessions would demand deep spending cuts and higher marginal tax rates at a time the economy can least afford them.

All we need to do is look at the heavy-handed austerity measures that hinder Europe's ability to recover from the same worldwide recession we endured.

Let's be clear. Our federal government is running unsustainable deficits, contributing to mounting debt, which must be reduced over the next several years.

But the 1990s provide an excellent blueprint for how to generate a surplus in Washington and drive economic growth at the same time.

If we had continued on the financial trajectory established by former President Bill Clinton, projections show that we would have paid off the entire federal debt by this year.

There was even a secret government report written in 2000, called "Life After Debt," that discussed the potential problems savers, foreign governments and the Social Security trust fund might have if they could no longer invest in Treasury bonds.

So, don’t tell me it can't be done. Or that it can't be done in a fair and rational way that promotes growth. Or that it can't be done without amending the Constitution.

All we need is the political will to do it.

Jill Beccaris-Pescatore is an assistant professor of economics at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pa.

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