|The right mix for the USA|
A Cocktail Party
For several years, your Cocktail Party chairman had legislative liaison responsibilities for the U.S. Forest Service in research or management areas that included the State of Utah. There was a standard saying among legislative coordinators, including those who closely observed the Washington scene, regarding long-time Senator Orrin Hatch. It went like this:
“The only political people dumber than Orrin Hatch are his staff members.”
Now the Utah Senator is again proving his mettle by proposing a constitutional amendment to require balanced federal budgets. Rookie legislators in the House have passed a bill requiring balanced budgets; fortunately, it will go no further.
Mandatory balanced budgets work rather well at the state level, but there the stakes are quite different. Imagine a few scenarios should the feds have a strict balanced budget system:
1. Floods sweep over large parts of the Ohio River Basin. Several governors ask the President to declare disaster areas in their states and provide emergency federal funding to deal with the crisis. The President cannot comply; because it is late in the budget year and the government has insufficient funds earmarked for natural disaster relief, has no surplus funds in other accounts, and is not allowed to borrow money to cope with the unforeseen disaster.
2. North Korea without warning launches a massive missile attack on U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan. Military leaders urge immediate retaliation. The Commander in Chief says, “Sorry, boys, but we’re maxed out on the defense spending budget item right now. Your actions will just have to wait until next fiscal year unless we can quickly get three-fourths of the states to change the Constitution. We’ll probably have to eliminate Social Security next year to handle the extra military funding if we can’t get a substantial tax increase passed in a hurry.”
3. The State of California goes bankrupt. The Governor asks Congress for emergency funding to maintain the education, law enforcement, and prison systems while all the legal issues are being resolved. Congress has no funds budgeted for such bailouts, so it decides to respond by cutting 200 billion dollars from the authorization for defense spending.
4. Unprecedented forest and range fires burn huge acreages throughout the western States. The U.S. Forest Service asks Congress for a supplemental appropriation to pay for combating the blazes. To comply with the request, Congress cuts general disaster relief funds earmarked for such things as unforeseen flooding in the Midwest.
And round and round it could go. The federal government is where the buck stops when disasters strike us. That’s why the founding fathers wisely provided our government with the ability to borrow funds and didn’t say a word about balanced budgets.
We do need to reduce the size of the national debt in the near future, but removing the ability to borrow when necessary would be sheer folly. Borrowing is necessary right now, and will be for some time, to keep the good ship USS America from sinking and sucking the rest of the world’s economies down with it.
Senator Hatch is smart enough (just barely) to know that many Americans are dumb enough to think a federal balanced budget requirement would be just peachy-creamy. A balanced budget amendment would be horrible.
The Great American Cocktail Party is absolutely opposed to any requirement that the government of the United States be hamstrung by a balanced budget amendment or similar foolishness. Our representatives have enough trouble functioning rationally without that sort of impediment to effective government at the federal level.
To view the announcement of the founding of the Great American Cocktail Party visit the August 5, 2010 post titled “Coffee, Tea, or . . .” in the archive on the right-hand column of this Blog.