Ah, yes, the perennially unbalanced budget of the United States of America. Something to be cherished. Something for each faithful American to retain a copy of for his or her  grandchildren to explore in the attic on a rainy Saturday afternoon and voice the question, “Grandma, why did the Bureau of Land Management lose nearly half its funding between FY 2001 and FY 20007?” All civic minded children are dying to know the answers to questions like this.

Okay, that sounds a little flippant, I will grant you, but no more so than the latest iteration of a demand for a Balanced Budget Amendment by some Republican politicians.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky renewed this proposal as one of 543 Republican responses to the 2015  State of The Union address by President Barack Obama.

Here is how Paul prefaced his proposal.

Prevailing upon his background in medicine, Paul sketched out a governing vision that aligns with medical ethics. “As a physician, I was taught first, do no harm. To think before you act. To analyze the unintended consequences of your actions. I think America would be better off if all of our politicians took the same approach. First, do no harm.”

Not that Congress is capable of much in the way of pure ethical action these days, medical or otherwise. And the author, Simon Maloy, of the Salon article discussing Paul’s speech points out

And what’s the very first policy Paul recommends as part of this “do no harm” philosophy? A wildly destructive and needlessly harmful balanced budget amendment:

Maloy correctly cites evidence that having a balanced budget in times of national fiscal difficulties only worsens the problems due to its rigidity.

The reason a balanced budget amendment is such a bad idea is that it handcuffs the federal government, providing it little flexibility to respond to shifting economic conditions. With no option but to robotically seek a balanced budget, even in times of economic distress, such an amendment would force the government into a series of horrible economic policy decisions.

While that reasoning is clear the absurdist part of Paul’s rationale for a Balanced Budget Amendment is

It’s self-evident that the president and Congress are unable to do what every family in America must do: balance their budget. If Congress cannot, or will not, balance the budget, then we should amend the Constitution to make it mandatory.

It is obvious that Rand Paul does not watch the Suze Orman Show on Saturdays where the hostess is forever dealing with individuals and couples whose basic budgetary plan is to simply put all expenses on credit cards while failing to pay down student loans and, at the same time, carrying a huge monthly car payment for a vehicle that they bought when the first scheduled oil change and barely been completed on their previous car. Then they want to purchase some fancy designer clothing or accessories so they look good before the Bankruptcy judge at the same time their monthly expenses exceed their monthly net income even when that monthly net income is in five figures.

Then again maybe federal budgets are like family ones.

Realistically, families who do try to control and balance their budgets often find necessary expenses (housing, food, commuting costs, child care) are beyond modification. Yet they resist spending less on dining out, cell phone and internet and cable TV services.

I suppose in  many ways those features might be somewhat analogous to mandatory parts of the federal budget such as Social Security and interest on the Public Debt. Of course the optional spending in the federal budget that is the most egregiously budget busting is what is allocated to the military. But while a family may have a light go on that prompts them to take their lunch to work, have more family dinners at home instead of at even fast food restaurants, Rand Paul and his fellow Republicans…and many Democrats…refuse to lower the military budget even as the Pentagon insists it does not need and will barely use the next fleet of bi-planes manufactured in the district of some powerful Congressman.

Too, couples facing financial challenges may realize one or both of them needs to bring in more income through a second (or third) job or working longer hours. The equivalent in our government would be to raise revenues via various tax devices—closing loopholes, increasing rates, halting subsidies, etc. But Paul and his merry band of balanced budget advocates will have none of that.

The sole means of balancing the federal budget as advocated seems to be at times to underfund or eliminate entirely programs that benefit the very families who already have the most difficulty balancing their own budgets.

The irony is deafening.

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