I've long been a skeptic of the effort to pass a balanced budget amendment, as I wrote back in March when Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., first unveiled his plan, which quickly racked up all Republican Senators as co-sponsors. While I'm not particularly opposed to it per se, I think supporting the amendment can be a bit of a cop out for some Republicans who want to say they're for a balanced budget in the abstract, but are reluctant to get behind specific cuts. I wouldn't put Toomey himself in this category, as he's actually supported specific deficit reduction plans.
Another reason why I'm skeptical is that the Toomey version of the amendment itself would require a balanced budget within five years (making the Ryan plan unconstitutional) and a two-thirds majority to enact any tax increases. However, to pass the amendment in the first place, you'd need 67 votes in both chambers of Congress and 38 states to ratify it. If there were that kind of bipartisan majority for rapidly balancing the budget through massive spending cuts and no tax increases, we wouldn't have a problem striking a debt-reduction deal in the first place. Earlier this afternoon, I posed my concerns to Toomey in a conference call.
“You’re right about the challenges that we face, but I just don’t think it’s an argument against proceeding with a balanced budget amendment," Toomey responded. “They’re not mutually exclusive. Somebody could, if it falls short initially, still make progress on other fronts. The other thing that could happen, and I hope does happen, is if the vote for a balanced budget amendment for instance fails to get 67, but the American people notice that the Senate just cast that vote and that every Republican was for a balanced budget and Democrats killed it, and there’s an uproar, maybe we bring it back the next week and pick up a couple of more votes. And maybe we gotta do that again. It wouldn’t be the first time we had to have multiple votes on the exact same measure and vote totals change over time. So, I understand your point, and in an ideal world we wouldn’t need to do this because we’d have the will to cut spending wherever needed and balance the budget, but we’ve demonstrated that we don’t have it. So any way we can impose this straight jacket, I’m in favor of.”