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THE UNSTABLE BALANCED-BUDGET AMENDMENT
BY BOB FRANKEN
John McCain calls it “bizzaro.” Even John McCain. The reliably hardscrabble conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page calls it “crack political thinking.” This has to be loopy, particularly since it's the same old Republican/right-wing (pardon the redundancy) shtick about a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
This time it's been playing in the debt-crisis melodrama. You've heard the refrain -- a simple-minded song-and-dance about how the federal government should be held to the same standard as families and individuals who must live within their means. The ultimate argument is that debt is bad, whether it's public or private.
Frankly, if the cheap-shot politicians want to demean the Constitution, maybe they should set their sights higher. How about a balanced-budget amendment that simply bans borrowing by anybody? Think of it: no more monthly payments, no more defaults, no bankruptcy nor worrying about paying anybody back. Since we're tampering with the nation's fundamental charter, let's go big-time and make sure the change encompasses all facets of this nation's life.
It's living within our means, right? And never mind the really mean consequences. No longer in our personal lives will we be able to afford a house, or a car to park in the driveway or a TV inside to watch the news, which will show the economy sliding into oblivion, because no one will be buying much of anything.
It will mean that the millions of people who make the stuff we finance will be out of work; sticking with cash-only will result in not enough for buying anything, even food or medical care in an emergency. It'll work the same way with our government: If some other country decides to push the U.S. around, there will be inadequate funds to protect our nation. If there's not enough to provide for the less fortunate, they'll just get sick or starve. But hey, at least the budget will be balanced.
I know this is foolish to even suggest, but how about some sort of intelligent approach to the crushing debt? One that doesn't stab our society in the heart. Why not make our officials, elected and nonelected, fully accountable for the massive waste that results from ineptitude and their political cronyism?
Why not hold them up for scorn for protecting their favored special interests? Why not, at the same time, crack down on all the government inefficiency and bureaucratic laziness for real, instead of making “Waste, Fraud and Abuse” targeting an empty promise? Up until now, that has been such a cliché that anyone who has experience rolls his or her eyes.
As for our private lives, we need to be much more discriminating about the ways we go into hock. It's absurd to be mortgaged to the teeth for a house that is simply way too big for the family, or making painful monthly payments on a luxury car whose main use is to take an ego trip.
The reality is that we have constructed a society that relies on debt. To make it function, it is imperative that we unravel the knots of corruption tangling the entire system. The laws need to be tightened to make sure that those who corrupt our fragile system pay a legal price.
We also need to do a better job of choosing our representatives, shunning those who make false promises to save the government, but whose real goal is to undermine it and tie it into knots. Then, in the words of that scornful Wall Street Journal op-ed, the “Tea Party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth.” Even if they do, the balanced-budget amendment idea will crazily keep popping up. Call it “Wacky Mole” Bizzaro.
© 2011 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.