4:19 PM CST, February 18, 2013
Almost unnoticed in Sen. Marco Rubio's response to the president's State of the Union address was a drastic proposal: amending the Constitution to require a balanced budget every year. Or rather, it would be drastic if it were serious, which it plainly is not.
It's not serious because Republicans are no more determined to balance the budget than Democrats. Mitt Romney's budget blueprint envisioned the elimination of the deficit only in the last year of his second term. And no one really believed it. President Obama is even less ambitious.
If the amendment would actually force them to balance the budget, they wouldn't be interested. If they were truly interested, the amendment wouldn't be necessary.
Nor is it clear it would work. States generally require their budgets to be balanced. That hasn't stopped Illinois and many others from making pension commitments that are financially unrealistic -- in effect, getting around the rule by spending future dollars instead of current ones.
The amendment is a cheap gimmick: a way of feigning fiscal responsibility while making none of the hard, politically risky decisions needed to bring it about. Everyone, after all, wants a balanced budget. But hardly anyone in Washington wants to make the spending cuts or enact the tax increases needed to achieve it.
So don't expect a balanced budget amendment. And don't expect a balanced budget.
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC