A Balanced Budget Anyway?

March 03, 1995

We almost wish the Senate had passed the Balanced Budget Amendment resolution. We would have liked to have seen the look on Bob Dole's face when the states refused to ratify it.

He and other leaders of the "Republican Devolution" say they want important decisions made in state capitals, not Washington. Yet the state capitals have been getting warier and warier of this amendment as the possibility of its passage approached reality.

Why? Because what might have devolved onto state governments was a burden beyond imagination or bearing. Maryland legislators were having second thoughts before the Senate voted. A majority of the House of Delegates went on record last week to delay considering a Balanced Budget Amendment until a bipartisan commission could take a close look at its impact on the state's economy and Annapolis' tax and spending policies.

Other states surely would have done the same. And in the end, just as surely, the Balanced Budget Amendment would not have received the support of the necessary 38 states.

How can we be sure? Because for the past 20-plus years there's been an unsuccessful movement to get states to pressure Congress to do what it has now failed to do -- pass a Balanced Budget Amendment. States were urged to exercise their right, spelled out in Article V of the Constitution, to force Congress to call a convention for the purpose of proposing amendments. Two decades of effort produced not the 38 states necessary to ratify an amendment, not even the 34 needed to call a convention. Only 32 states approved such a Balanced Budget Amendment convention.

Senator Dole says he will call the resolution back for a vote again -- maybe more than once. That's not governance; it's politics.

We don't even believe it's good politics. Sure, he's running for president. Sure, the most likely voters in Republican primaries in New Hampshire and points south are pro-amendment. But there is no reason to believe they will hold him in lesser esteem for trying and failing once than they will because he promises them to try, try again.

Maybe the opposite. Voters know he has already made his best arguments. They know the only way to get the one more vote he needs is with arm-twisting or pork. On passing legislation, that is part of the game, acceptable to the public; but not when it comes to amending the Constitution. Senator Dole could lose by winning.

What he should do now is follow through on his promise to bring before the Congress Republican alternatives to those Clinton administration budget projections of a trillion dollars more debt in the next five years. If the first Republican Congress in four decades can, without a Balanced Budget Amendment, impose real fiscal discipline on the federal government, there will very likely be many more Republican Congresses in the near future -- working with a Republican White House.

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