Is a Budget Amendment Constitutionally Appropriate?

Matty asks:

Does either proposal [balanced budget amendment or unbalanced budget amendment] really belong as a constitutional ammendment? As I understand it your constitution does two things, sets out the structure of government and sets limits to what laws can be passed in an effort to protect people’s rights. To put in economic policies even at a very general level would seem to blur the line between legislation and constitution, which I’m not sure is a good idea.

I think that’s a very important question to ask of any proposed constitutional amendment. I’m open to argument because I’m not entirely sure, but I think it would be an appropriate constitutional change. My reasoning is that budgeting–taxing and spending–is a fundamental authority of the government–from the perspective of many political scientists the fundamental authority, because nothing else actually happens absent budgeting.

So rules regulating the government’s exercise of that authority begin, I think, with at least a weak presumption of constitutional appropriateness. Obviously not every such rule would be constitutionally appropriate–an amendment saying Congress could not tax income over $100,000, or setting the top marginal tax rate, or saying no monies could be spent on minorities, obviously would be inappropriate. (On the other hand, I favor an amendment prohibiting business subsidies, although I’ve never figured out the right wording, given the big gray area between general expenditures and subsidies.)

But a rule ensuring that the government cannot functionally bankrupt the country, which is in effect a rule saying the government cannot abuse the authority given it, seems to me an appropriate thing to include in a Constitution.

Whether it’s wise is, of course, an entirely different question.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
This entry was posted in Politics in General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Is a Budget Amendment Constitutionally Appropriate?

  1. ppnl says:

    I dunno but the idea of offering a constitutional amendment as a rider to sweeten the deal to pass something else is just twisted. In reality it is just more posturing.

    And can you even define a subsidy? If all you eliminate is direct sign the check payouts then you really haven’t eliminated much. The gasohol subsidy is a tax exemption for example. Is agreeing to not take their money if they do certain things a subsidy? How about if you just raise the tax on their competitors if they do something certain things?

    In order to give a government the power to do things it must do you inevitably give it the power to do things it should not.

  2. James Hanley says:

    the idea of offering a constitutional amendment as a rider to sweeten the deal to pass something else is just twisted.

    Heh, if anything that’s not a strong enough statement!

    can you even define a subsidy?

    Yeah, that’s the difficulty, I can’t. And I don’t know that anyone else can. Conceptually the amendment would ban any regulation that has as its purpose the intentional creation of economic rents for any particular industry…except that I support patents and copyright (generally, not necessarily in their current legal form), which creates economic rents. It’s a thorny problem, and quite possibly intractable. How do we allow some tax deductions without making possible crypto-subsidies via specialized tax exemptions? I’d settle for just limiting the most egregious examples of rent-seeking, but I don’t know there’s any way to actually accomplish even that.

    Perhaps just a general statement that:
    Congress shall make no law privileging any one business, firm, industry, or economic competitor (potential or real) over another. Notwithstanding this provision, Congress shall retain the authority to create generally applicable economic regulations, and shall retain the authority over intellectual property rights delegated in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, except that no intellectual property rights may last more than 20 years [or whatever, we can quibble over details later] beyond the life of the creator, or a maximum of 50 years, whichever limit is first met.

    This law shall not be construed to deny Congress’s authority to regulate for consumer safety, workplace safety, or environmental protection, so long as any such regulations are generally applicable to all businesses, firms, industries, or economic competitors.

    Then we let the Court work out the detailed application of the law.

  3. ppnl says:

    Then we let the Court work out the detailed application of the law.

    And why not? They did so well with the commerce clause.

  4. James Hanley says:

    Hah! But of course that’s what the Court does for every clause anyway. But I think there’s a noticeable trend in our constitutional amendments away from general statements of principle that are open to Court interpretation toward ones that are much more factually specific. That could be just a function of what types of issue have arisen that we needed to respond to, but perhaps it also represents a shift in our understanding of how to write constitutions (e.g., our state constitutions tend to be very highly specific, rather than general as the U.S. Constitution is). The least specified proposed amendment of recent time was perhaps the Equal Rights Amendment, and that one failed.

    So there’s something new to ponder. I wonder if anyone’s already written some good research on that issue?

  5. Matty says:

    A good response, I think you make the case that a sufficiently high level rule against bankrupting the country does belong. I may have been reacting to the circumstances in which I came across the BBA idea as much as the idea itself. To make it a condition of a political deal sounded like trying to play a sport by rewriting the definition of a foul in response to the other team scoring.

Comments are closed.