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The stupidest constitutional amendment Bruce Bartlett has ever seen

April 1, 2011 - Mike Maneval
A new - or rather, recycled - proposal popular with many Republicans is "quite possibly the stupidest constitutional amendment I think I have ever seen," Bruce Bartlett says.

What is the proposal, who is Bartlett and why does he think it is stupid?

The proposal is an amendment to the constitution requiring balanced federal budgets. As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein notes, not one single year of either President Ronald Reagan's administration or President George W. Bush's administration would've complied with the proposed amendment.

Bartlett knows a little bit about federal budgets - from service as a senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House and a staff member for such government-spending skeptics as Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. And he opposes the concept of a balanced-budget amendment, noting enforcement of any such amendment would slide legislative and executive functions to the judiciary, as correcting the "unconstitutionality" of budgets like the ones signed by Bush and Reagan would require the presiding judge or court to close gaps through cutting spending themselves or raising taxes themselves. Also, Bartlett observes in blog posts at, after the running up the deficits of the Reagan, Bush and Obama administrations, balancing the budget under the latest proposal would require the abolition of EVERY discretionary expenditure, including safety inspections for mining, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the entire Pentagon - Navy, Army, Marines, all of it, completely eliminated - and cutting another $300 billion from Social Security and Medicare. To summarize that last point, a balanced-budget amendment would negate the possibility of cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients not only this year, but every year, forever.

And yet, Bartlett is clear in trashing the latest draft of such an amendment - which he laments has been endorsed by every Republican in the U.S. Senate - that as wrong as he thinks a balanced-budget would be, his superlative description is specific to this proposal. What sets this latest version of a balanced-budget amendment apart? It prohibits federal spending from rising about 18 percent of gross domestic product - an arbitrary figure tied to a term - gross domestic product - which has seen its definition shift and evolve in the last thirty years.


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