, , , ,

Has anyone else noticed that they only trot out their ridiculous “Balanced Budget Amendment” when a Democratic President is sitting in the Oval Office? We first heard about the idea when Bill Clinton was the President, and it went nowhere. (Oddly enough, you may recall that Bill Clinton balanced the budget, closed the deficit and put the country on track to pay off the national debt, and he did it without a Balanced Budget Amendment.)

In the history of bad ideas, you will find some doozies — lawn darts, New Coke, the AMC Pacer, crystal meth — but few rival the Balanced Budget Amendment in either weight or depth of pure, unadulterated, ideology-driven dumbassery. Indeed, the BBA deserves it’s own wing in the Bad Idea Hall of Shame.

But it isn’t just a bad idea. It’s a dishonest one, too boot.

That is because the only thing it does is make it nearly impossible to raise revenue, while doing diddly-squat to rein in Bush-like profligate deficit spending. Bruce Bartlett called  it a “pathetic joke” because it not only lacks any enforcement mechanism, it lacks an enactment mechanism. There is nothing in the thing to prompt Congress to do anything about deficit spending. Not. One. Thing.

It’s simply a Grover Norquist wetdream, an addendum to our owner’s manual that would make it next to impossible to ever, in any way, increase revenues, let alone raise taxes.

It’s a ludicrous idea, and it deserves mockery, scorn and ridicule from every Democrat and less-crazy republican in the country. That is why this is so utterly infuriating.

One of the big victories by tea-party Republicans in the debt-ceiling measure signed into law Tuesday was securing a requirement that Congress vote later this year on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

The measure would need a two-thirds vote in each chamber, and then ratification by 38 states, to succeed. And most observers believe passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate is all but impossible.

Enter Sen. Mark Udall, the centrist Democrat from Colorado, who has introduced an amendment proposal and said Tuesday that Democratic leaders have chosen his legislation to be considered in the fall.

President Obama and other senior Democrats have opposed any balanced-budget amendment, but the idea is popular with many voters – particularly independents, who are growing more fiscally conservative.

Udall is up for reelection in 2014. Many of his Democratic co-sponsors – including Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) – are running this year and need support from centrists.

Republicans in the Senate will likely rally around their own proposal, sponsored by Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, which would limit spending to 18 percent of GDP and require congressional supermajorities to raise taxes.

A bad idea is a bad idea, even when it can be described as “thoughtful.”

We don’t need a Balanced Budget Amendment to balance the budget and generate a surplus instead of spending shortfalls. All it takes is the political will to increase tax rates to what they were in the prosperous nineties and the backbone to say “no” to republican spendthrifts like Reagan and Little Boots Bush who wracked up most of the national debt all by themselves and ran deficits every year they submitted a budget.

In other words, the BBA is a cop-out. It’s a fig-leaf behind which the republicans can try to hide their shame and disguise their profligate ways.

But it is especially galling that a Democrat from Colorado is the braintrust from the Democratic side of the aisle that “went there,” because Colorado is the state that passed a “taxpayers bill of rights” back in 1994, and the BBA is to the nation what TABOR is to a state, and in Colorado it has been a formula for decline, cutting education at every level and dealing harsh blows to public health, including gutting Medicaid.

I don’t know about you, but I like the services my government provides, at every level. Everyone does, unless they’re a Randian nutjob who believes in hackneyed, magical thinking and who fervently believes (wrongly) that they would be fine without government because they are rugged individualists.

I like the fact that my city has good public transit and the purest drinking water in the country. I like that the streets are safe to drive on, I have nice, wide well-maintained sidewalks, and that a call to 911 will summon a cop, a firetruck or an ambulance should I need the services they provide.

I like the fact that my county provides healthcare to all via a voluntary tax levy we passed in 2005 with an overwhelming majority of voters supporting.

I like the services my state provides — highways, state parks, Medicaid, public health services, the highway patrol that keeps us safe on the state roadways…

I like the stuff the federal government provides. I like having a military. I like Social Security and Medicare and TriCare and the interstate highway system and scientific research and NASA and the FBI and the intelligence services.

I like having peace-of-mind when I fill a prescription that the drug I am taking is the drug that my physician prescribed, that it is safe if taken as directed and that the licensed pharmacist isn’t selling me baking soda. I like that the FAA keeps the skies safe when I fly and that the EPA keeps the businesses that operate near where I live from fouling the air and water and that OSHA makes sure that my workplace is safe.

I like that the government does these things and I don’t mind paying for them in the form of taxes, and I don’t want the beast starved. I want the beast well-fed and fit and groomed.

And if that makes me a Socialist in your eyes, then we’re on the same page.