Which is harder -- balancing the budget, or passing a balanced budget amendment? 

As lawmakers lurch toward a soft May deadline for raising the debt ceiling, the common wisdom holds that Republicans are willing to go there, but not without concessions. What sort of concessions are we talking about?  There are a few possibilities -- among them are specific program eliminations and statutory spending caps based on GDP.

But Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., is backing, and threatening to filibuster the debt ceiling vote unless he gets the always-elusive Balanced Budget Amendment. The amendment failed to pass the U.S. Senate in 1996 by just one vote, under far more favorable circumstances. The new amendment is less likely to draw Democratic support because it requires a two-thirds vote for tax increases, a three-fifths vote for increases to the debt ceiling, and a three-fifths vote to spend more than 18 percent of GDP.

Republican aides, in more sanguine moments, note that no one has ever lost an election by voting for a balanced budget amendment, but that some members could well lose in 2012 if they vote to raise the debt ceiling. They are correct, but here's the other side of it: As difficult as it is to imagine 67 votes materializing for any constitutional amendment, it seems even less likely that 51 votes will exist for any balanced budget in the next ten years. Even the aggressive proposal advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., does not balance the budget in that timeframe, and the challenges of hockey-stick growth in Medicare obligations make such a budget nearly impossible.

DeMint's hope is that Congress will act when its hand is absolutely forced. The amendment could take as long as five years for ratification, and it then gives Congess a further five years to reach balance.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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