Yesterday I gave my second “Fix the Debt” presentation, this time to the Greater Omaha Kiwanis Club. The main slide (just below)
is all they needed to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. Their main interest was “How do we fix it?” They listened politely to a bipartisan list of possible actions:
- Policies that grow the economy
- Health care cost containment
- Social security reform
- Defense spending cuts
- Other spending cuts
- Tax reform and tax expenditure cuts
- Budget process reform
Then one member asked, “How about a balanced budget amendment?” and this became the focus of the discussion. A balanced budget amendment going forward would not pay off the debt but would stop adding to it. It would shrink the debt over time as a percentage of GDP as the economy continues to grow. This is the best we can do in a practical sense and represents a satisfactory solution. There are lots of problems, however, associated with passing a Balanced Budget Amendment:
- First of all, it will be difficult to accomplish. It requires approval by a 2/3 vote of each house of Congress and ratification by ¾ of the states. This means that it could be stopped by just 13 state legislatures.
- How would a BBA be enforced? By having the Supreme Court step in and require specific actions to raise taxes or cut spending? This seems problematic.
- There would have to be a provision for override in the case of emergency (war or other catastrophe). A 2/3 vote by each house of Congress would be a logical way to handle a situation like this. But such a system could easily be abused.
The goal is to significantly shrink the debt as a percentage of GDP over time as the economy grows. This does not require a balanced budget but only that annual deficits be lower on average than annual growth of the economy. Representative Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” plan, for example, would shrink the debt by 30% over a 20 year period without a single annual balanced budget. The important thing is to shrink the debt as a percentage of the economy, and to get going on this as soon as possible. If it requires a somewhat rigid amendment to get this done, then that’s what we need to do!