Congress is now so discredited and dispirited as an institution that, in desperation, it may send to the states for ratification an amendment to the Constitution supposedly mandating a balanced budget. And, mind you, President Bush would sign such legislation even though he has never sent up a balanced budget and probably never will. This cynical, hypocritical gesture would be the final insult to voters from a bunch of politicians who are in the process of approving a $400 billion deficit -- the largest in U.S. history.
Before the citizenry falls for Washington's latest scam, it should demand that this president and this Congress first enact measures that would come to grips with the budget crisis now. A balanced budget amendment would not do that. It would merely pass on the nation's fiscal burdens to future officeholders while permitting the current crop of incumbents to posture outrageously.
There is a way to begin a genuine move toward balancing the budget. It would require enactment of restraints on the runaway growth of such sacred-cow entitlement programs as Medicare, Medicaid, agriculture subsidies, veterans benefits, student loans and the like. But political Washington lacks the guts to pass such restraints. When Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., Warren Rudman, R-N.H., Charles Robb, D-Va., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., proposed in mid-April that entitlement spending be limited to the inflation rate plus the growth in population, they were batted down on a 66-28 vote pandering to the veterans lobby. Maryland's Democratic senators, Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, predictably joined the majority.