BUD­GET

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peo­ple can see through this,” said Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R-Ur­bana, who voted against the spend­ing bill but for the tax cuts. “The time to have real po­lit­i­cal courage and do the right thing was four weeks ago. That’s when we needed to con­trol spend­ing.”

Deficit hawks echoed Jor­dan’s crit­i­cism.

“This is what hap­pens when you go on a ben­der and say, ‘Never again; I’m not go­ing to touch a drop,’” said Bob Bixby, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Concord Coali­tion, a non­profit fo­cused on fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity. “I have ceased to take these things se­ri­ously, and this one was just par­tic­u­larly bizarre.”

“It’s a po­lit­i­cal stunt,” said Ja­cob Kirkegaard of the Peter­son In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Eco­nom­ics, who called the vote “the epit­ome of hypocrisy.”

To hear watch­dogs talk, the move is lu­di­crous: There’s no way to slash taxes and in­crease spend­ing, and then ex­pect to bal­ance the bud­get. The math doesn’t work.

But it’s the con­tin­u­a­tion of what has been a long-run­ning ef­fort. The House had last voted for such an amend­ment in 2011, but it fell far short of the two-thirds ma­jor­ity needed to send the amend­ment to the states for rat­i­fi­ca­tion. A sim­i­lar ef­fort stalled in the Se­nate in 1995.

De­spite last week’s fail­ure to pass the amend­ment, there’s clearly an ap­petite for it.

Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, said he sup­ports the idea: “If you don’t have the bal­anced-bud­get dis­ci­pline, it’s very hard to see how the fed­eral bud­get prob­lems are able to be solved.”

Four Ohioans — Repub­li­can Reps. Steve Chabot of Cincin­nati, Michael Turner of Day­ton, Bob Latta of Bowl­ing Green and Steve Stivers of Up­per Ar­ling­ton — co-spon­sored the amend­ment that the House voted on. Stivers ap­plauded the House’s de­ci­sion to take it up, say­ing: “It is clear that this leg­is­la­tion is needed now more than ever.”

“The rea­son to hold the vote is to see who’s ‘yes’ and who’s ‘no,’” he said. “We need to know who to work on if we’re go­ing to get to two–thirds.”

But Stivers also sup­ported both the tax bill and the spend­ing bill. He said he be­lieves the for­mer will make the econ­omy grow and bring more rev­enue into fed­eral cof­fers. He said he backed the spend­ing bill be­cause of its in­crease in de­fense spend­ing.

“The mil­i­tary is un­der–re­sourced like no time since the Viet­nam War,” Stivers said.

De­spite that, he still sup­ports the amend­ment, say­ing it’s the only way to en­sure the bud­get is bal­anced.

“We have to make a bal­anced bud­get some­thing re­quired, so it hap­pens,” he said.

That ar­gu­ment pro­voked scoffs from Demo­cratic Sen. Sher­rod Brown of Ohio at a Na­tional Press Club event last week.

“It’s sort of in­ter­est­ing that be­cause the ma­jor­ity party blew a hole in the bud­get, they’ve gotta go back and say, ‘Let’s do a Bal­anced Bud­get con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment so we don’t do bad things any­more,’” Brown said. “Re­ally? ‘Stop us from do­ing this. We won’t stop our­selves.’”

Ohio Gov. John

Ka­sich, who launched his 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign by push­ing for a Bal­anced Bud­get Amend­ment, shared that skep­ti­cism.

“It’s bet­ter to do it than not do it, but what’s the point? It’s not go­ing to pass,” he said. “I just hope that it’s based on sin­cer­ity and not an at­tempt to cover your tracks.”

Ka­sich said he still sup­ports the idea of a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to bal­ance the bud­get. He said that when he launched “Bal­anced Bud­get For­ever” in De­cem­ber 2014, the idea was to spur states to call for the amend­ment.

“We felt as we got closer and closer to that, that Congress might see fit to act on their own,” he said, adding that he’d be “thrilled” if Congress passed the amend­ment, but “I don’t be­lieve it’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

“The real sit­u­a­tion is you can’t be spend­ing all of this money,” Ka­sich said. “It leaves you ques­tion­ing, ‘Why are they pass­ing this if they just passed this in­flated spend­ing bill along with very lit­tle sav­ings in tax re­form? What is the point of this?’”

Still, he said, “it’s bet­ter to do it and have the dis­cus­sion than do noth­ing.”

But deficit hawks say it would be bet­ter to make a con­sis­tent com­mit­ment to fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity, such as a statu­tory re­quire­ment to re­duce ex­pen­di­tures or an

ex­am­i­na­tion of the driv­ers of the deficit and debt — en­ti­tle­ments such as Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity. Un­less those are cut, the only way to bal­ance the bud­get would be through tax in­creases, which Rom­ina Boc­cia of the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion said “there’s no ap­petite for.”

Hawks also dis­pute the need to have the bud­get bal­ance ev­ery year. In­stead, said Bixby, “what you want is debt sta­ble rel­a­tive to the size of your econ­omy, so the debt isn’t grow­ing faster than the econ­omy, which is what is hap­pen­ing now, and which is what makes it ul­ti­mately un­sus­tain­able.”

The Peter­son In­sti­tute’s Kirkegaard, mean­while, said it would be im­pos­si­ble to bal­ance the bud­get with­out ef­fec­tively gut­ting the fed­eral so­cial safety net op­er­ated by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and he ar­gued such an amend­ment would also make it in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to do the stim­u­lus spend­ing re­quired to keep eco­nomic down­turns from be­com­ing even worse.

“That would mean any fu­ture (eco­nomic) down­turn would be more se­vere than nec­es­sary, and it would basically throw more peo­ple out of work,” he said. “I think it is a uni­formly bad idea.”

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