The Constitution under assault Balanced Budget Amendment: Proposal doubly unworkable with Social Security loophole.

February 03, 1997

ONCE AGAIN the Constitution is under assault by politicians seeking a so-called Balanced Budget Amendment. What is worrisome is that one of these years, maybe even this year, this exercise in dishonesty and irresponsibility will prevail as Washington seeks cover from fiscal problems it would rather ignore. So it is time to get back in the trenches, call up the reserves and do battle against those who would sully the Constitution with an amendment that substitutes economic lunacy for normal legislative procedure.

Republicans have made the mistake of identifying their party with a gimmick that allows members of Congress to vote for the concept of a balanced budget in the never-never instead of buckling down to the hard work of eliminating federal deficits now. And Democrats, including President Clinton, do themselves no credit by advocating killer provisions that would make the constitutional amendment doubly unworkable by excluding the Social Security Fund.

This latter maneuver is another attempt by the Democrats to stir up the fears of senior citizens, much as they did with Medicare during the 1996 election. Some House Republicans have panicked, so much so that they may go along with the Democrats on Social Security. Should this happen -- should a bipartisan worst-case prevail -- the nation would be ill-served indeed.

Why? Because the Social Security Fund, now in surplus, is regularly tapped to keep down the size of current deficits. If this practice were stopped, and the Constitution mandated a balanced budget, Congress would have to slash billions upon paralyzing billions from federal spending or, more likely, pass an emergency waiver making the amendment a dead letter.

Why? Because when the Baby Boom generation retires, Social Security and Medicare costs will be so high the government will have to borrow its way past this demographic hurdle. There will be no getting around this. Now is the time for a balanced budget, not in the 2010-2030 era. Today's politicians should not force upon tomorrow's politicians a constitutional provision that just cannot be sustained.

In 1995, a Balanced Budget Amendment was rejected thanks to the vote of one lone Senate Republican, former Sen. Mark Hatfield. This year, early expectations that the amendment might die in the House could vanish if Republicans cynically accept the Democratic loophole on Social Security. Citizens against this affront to the Constitution must not let it happen.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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