Or may not be good reasons for opposing the...

THERE MAY

January 30, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THERE MAY or may not be good reasons for opposing the Balanced Budget Amendment, but the Democrats' favorite reasons are as phony as an eleven dollar bill.

Democratic favorite objection #1: It's not necessary. Or as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy Sr. puts it, "I support a balanced budget, but I oppose a constitutional amendment. Congress doesn't have to amend the Constitution to balance the budget. All we have to do is make the difficult decisions needed to achieve that goal."

All? All? He makes it sound so easy. But in his 32-plus years in the Senate, Congress has made the difficult decisions to produce a balanced budget exactly once. That was 1969, when there was a modest surplus of $3.2 billion. Since then there have been 27 straight deficits, totaling $4 trillion.

Only 20 members of today's Congress were there in 1969 -- eight of the 100 senators and 12 of the 435 representatives. So, 92 percent of the senators and 97 percent of the representatives have never laid eyes on a balanced federal budget. (One representative who voted against the balanced budget amendment last week, Patrick J. Kennedy, son of Senator Teddy, was one year old when the last balanced budget was passed.)

Two senators, Robert Byrd, who is 77, and Strom Thurmond, who is 92, have actually laid eyes on two balanced budgets. The last one before 1969 was in 1960.

But to get back to the point. "We can do it without an amendment" is absurd when you look at the string of failures. And it's not just this generation. In the post-Crash era, there have been only seven balanced budgets -- seven out of 66. Since Calvin Coolidge, only one president had a net surplus for his years in office. (Guess who. Wrong! It wasn't Ike, it was Harry!)

Democratic favorite objection #2: We can't do it with an amendment. Senator Byrd and others really mean by this that Congress won't do it with an amendment. Members will find loopholes in the amendment and continue to enact budgets with deficits despite the Constitution.

That's unbelievable. It is one thing to find loopholes in a Gramm-Rudman type law, but the Constitution is different. (Democratic favorite objection #2a is that the Supreme Court will end up enforcing the amendment, balancing the budget itself. I doubt it, but if so, so what? Could the court do worse than Congress?)

Not all Democrats oppose the Balanced Budget Amendment. Not even all liberal Democrats. The Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, for one, who regularly gets a 90-95 grade on his voting record from the leftish Americans for Democratic Action, and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (consistent 95 ADA).

They, like a number of younger Democratic liberals, have come to the conclusion that chronic deficits increase the debt service, which is what is crowding liberal social programs out of the budget.

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