During the last period of Democratic rule in the House, the center-right Blue Dog Coalition took great pride in stalling or killing off the best parts of the Democratic agenda. Now the Blue Dogs are back, and they’re promising to be just as terrible.
Bloomberg reports that Blue Dogs led by freshman Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah, who won his seat by fewer than a thousand votes last November, are planning on introducing a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget. This is one of the most asinine and economically illiterate ideas floated over the past three decades by obsessives of “fiscal responsibility” who really just want to eradicate the safety net.
“Both parties have behaved in a way that is fiscally irresponsible,” McAdams told Bloomberg. “The day of reckoning is coming.”
The balanced budget amendment has been a dream of the right for decades, as domestic spending programs and the safety net will always be up first on the chopping block if cuts need to be made. According to Bloomberg’s description, McAdams’ balanced budget amendment would “allow deficits during wars or recessions and would shield Social Security and Medicare from court-enforced cuts.”
Given that Democrats control the House and a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers to pass before it goes onto the states—something the Republicans weren’t able to do even when they were in control of the House—there’s only two purposes that pushing this idea could serve.
The first is hoping that enough conservative voters in districts like McAdams’ hear about and like the idea so he can get re-elected. “In my district, fiscal responsibility matters,” McAdams told Bloomberg. “People live within their means and they are responsible with the decisions that they make, and we expect the same from our federal government.” (Given that McAdams’ district is 80 percent white and has a higher median household income than the average American family, it’s hard not to detect some undertones of racism and classism there.)
The second purpose is to take a clear shot at House progressives, who are pushing a program that requires a lot of spending to deal with domestic issues—such as climate change, healthcare, education, housing, and so on—that are much more pressing than the national debt or deficit. In this way, proposing a balanced budget amendment is less a serious proposal and more of a warning to the left: over our dead bodies will you get a Green New Deal through Congress.
Seems like there’s a lesson to be learned here about candidate recruitment, but I just can’t put my finger on what that might be.