Is Sen. Hatch working for The Onion now?

It is hard to tell, some times, when satire ends and actual serious legislation begins.

Which brings us to Sen. Orrin Hatch’s latest, a Constitutional amendment to require the federal government to balance the budget.

No, seriously. The Senator introduced the legislation the other day. According to press reports, he says it would:

Annually require Congress to submit a budget in which expenditures do not exceed revenues unless three-fifths of each house of Congress approves a non-balanced budget.

 Direct the Treasury Department to use surpluses to pay down the nation’s debt.

 Require all tax increases to be approved by two-thirds of the members of Congress.

 Allow Congress to waive the balanced budget requirement during years when a declaration of war is in effect.

 I don’t really have a problem with government living within its means. Interestingly, every time I say “OK, raise a tax to pay for that,” I’m accused of being a “tax and spend  liberal.”

Cut something? Every dollar in the budget has a legislator who will scream if it is trimmed even a penny. Sen. Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop are fighting like badgers to protect NASA spending in Utah, to give one example. And yet, really, do we need to go to the moon that badly?

I would be fascinated to see how Hatch proposes we get to the point of a balanced budget, seeing as how the budget is now $1 trillion or so out of whack. To narrow that gap even by $200 billion a year would take five years of very severe cuts and/or tax hikes, completely eliminate growth in the budget, and hamstring Congress to react to any new problems that come up.

The problem here  and Sen. Hatch is part of it  is that Congress doesn’t want to balance the budget, not if that balancing requires Congress to actually do something. I invite Sen. Hatch to send me copies of statements he made during the term of President Ronald Reagan, for example, excoriating Reagan for tripling the national debt while cutting taxes. Or when he slammed Vice President Cheney when Cheney said “Deficits don’t matter.”

Truth is, much of the current wailing about the national debt and deficit smacks of political grandstanding. Neither Sen. Hatch, nor any other member of Congress, really has the stomach for the kinds of cuts of spending and tax hikes it would take to achieve balance.

If they did, they would do so and we wouldn’t be in this fix. All a Constitutional Amendment will do is set off a mad scramble to find ways to avoid balancing the budget, or hide the unbalance, whichever, and you may be sure they would succeed.

Which makes his proposal more than satire. It’s cynical. Congress can’t do what this amendment asks, and Hatch knows it. The impact of this drastic change in the fiscal landscape of the nation, even if spread over five years, would be beyond disastrous. Trillions of dollars in economic activity would disappear

We can take those proposals by item.

– Requiring Congress to submit a balanced budget. OK, fine, but how? And what constitutes ”balanced.”?

Utah’s budget is allegedly balanced every year, but it includes a hefty amount of bonding and borrowing. Guess what, that’s what the federal government does now with its “unbalanced” budgets. So if Utah’s budget is balanced by borrowing, so is the Fed’s.

So, problem solved. By the Utah Legislature’s definition, the federal budget is balanced now.

And, note the 3/5ths weasel factor. Will the minority party really risk shutting down the government by refusing to go along with an unbalanced budget? That’s what Congress does now, by the way: Every year it passes a resolution “temporarily” extending the national debt beyond its legal limit, which is some meaningless number I won’t bother to look up because, really, Congress doesn’t care.

And there are always ways around any requirement. President Bush hid the cost of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by simply declaring the funding for them, $100 billion a year, to be an “emergency” and therefore “off budget.”

A wave of the pen, all that unfunded war simply disappeared. Amazing!

This requirement also gives a very small minority — 2 fifths of Congress — effective power of the purse that the entire House of Representatives and Congress is supposed to have. As will be noted below, this is a very very bad idea, as California’s gridlocked government is a prime example of.

– Directing the  Treasury to pay down the debt with surpluses — good luck with that. President Bush was presented with a surplus by President Clinton and immediately pounced on it as a way to gain taxpayer favor by cutting government revenues. The urge to curry voter favor by cutting taxes is the only thing in Congress that is stronger than sex, so I can guarantee you there will be no surpluses.

– Require tax increases to be approved by 2/3 of Congress. This, along with that 3/5 requirement to approve an unbalanced budget, pretty much guarantees gridlock because it guarantees that any minority party has immense power to shut down government in return for favors.

It’s an invitation for backroom dealing and scandle, as well. Think the Congress man who holds the deciding vote won’t make sure his state gets gold plated goodies galore?  

Again, look at California.

– Allowing Congress to waive the balanced budget requirement if we are at war? Actually, I like this idea, since it would require Congress to finally declare war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Congress has never declared war since Korea, so this would be a breath of honesty. It would also require them, maybe, to quit ignoring our men and women fighting and dying over there while they sit in DC on that fat behinds playing political games. 

What the amendment should REALLY say is that any war Congress declares MUST be paid for, at once, up front, through a new war tax, levied on all taxpayers and corporations, up to 10 percent of gross income. Congress would be solely responsible for levying this tax along with declaring war, answerable to the voters at the next election.

No tax, no war. Now there’s an amendment I’d support.

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13 Responses to Is Sen. Hatch working for The Onion now?

  1. Doug Gibson says:

    Value-added tax, age and wage increases in Social Security, elimination of deductions. Those are needed for a balanced budget. It’s doubtful any side has the moxie to do that.

  2. JJ Wilson says:

    For generations the federal government has gotten to be so big regarding what we spend money on and what we, as residents, accept money for, no one knows how to stop this avalanche.
    As a lifelong Democrat who tends to be fiscally conservative I would like to pay less in federal tax dollars and have that money stay in my bank account.
    Is there truly anyone that knows how to accomplish this? No, I don’t believe so.

  3. Willbike says:

    Good piece, very informative. No tax, no war. That would be fair. Everyone should get to feel a little bit of the pain. Good idea from Doug too, no more deductions. The members of our areas predominant religion could start paying their fair share of taxes to educate their children.

  4. G Renfroe says:

    I agree that mister Hatch has become more of a theatrical figure than an honest-to-God brass tacks 9 to 5 workingman like most of us that read the paper and go to our jobs day after day.

    Unfortunately it is precisely the theatrical nature of public office that keeps us voting for the people with the stage presence that grips our psyche to make polarizing decisions.

    The current history being written blames our woes on the man in the Oval Office; whoever that may be and it is currently a foe of Orrin, because it is politically expedient to blame one person and focus the public ire in the direction that will mostly benefit one side or the other.

    Orrin is just doing his job; and his job is to keep our attention while waving the big flag that gets himself reelected. He cannot do the job we expect him to do without being there, in Washington, in the back room wielding his influence and seniority using elbows and fingernails to do what we sent him there to do.

    The balanced budget amendment? I agree with Mr. T. It is a grandstanding event meant to distract from the core issues and create political controversy.

    As for going to the moon. It is the technology push to get to the moon that is the payoff in the long run. It’s like learning how to read. The things that will open up to our understanding will grow exponentially with the effort put into the journey.

  5. Dovie says:

    Everything depends on definitions, as you said. What’s balanced, what’s war, what’s a surplus.

    Crime statistics are most easily manipulable. If you want the murder rate to go down, you charge criminals with manslaughter or negligent homicide.

    The Tea Party pressure is merely ensuring that nothing logical that might help get us out of this economic mess will occur. Ironically, they will get rid of Hatch and elect a newbee to present the same idea. No second chances, Senator.

    At least we will get rid of Hatch. .

  6. Ferg says:

    Hatch is working on his “legacy” … his only motivation for the past few years seems to be to get a Constitutional Amendment on the books… isn’t this about the fifth amendment he’s proposed in just the last couple of years?

  7. laytonian says:

    How about we PAY FOR A WAR when we start a war?

    Do you think the right wing who started the Iraq War, would have supported it if there was a tax increase to pay for it?

    And WHY wasn’t the cost of the war put into Bush’s budgets? It’s Obama who has put the cost of the wars into the budget, thus obviously accounting for the budget deficit.

    The Iraq War was sold as “free”, costing $60-$80 billion upfront but the oil revenues we gained, would cover that.

    Now, we know that the cost of the Iraq War has surpassed one trillion dollars. And that doesn’t count the future cost of caring for dead and wounded vets and their survivors.

    The sad thing about the Obama administration?

    They believe the public is smarter than they actually are. Mr Obama needs to stand up in front of a Glenn Beck-style blackboard, and SHOW the American public some true figures about what things cost.

    It’s easy to cry “pork” — unless it’s ATK, then it’s “patriotism”.

  8. tom says:

    “Congress has never declared war since Korea”

    If my fading old memory can be trusted Charlie, the US Congress did not declare e war in Korea either. I think they called it a “Police Action”

  9. Michael Trujillo says:

    “Congress has never declared war since Korea”

    They declared a war on drugs.

  10. Jim W says:

    I suggest that for every billion dollars of annual deficit, the Secret Service shoots a Congressman in the keister with lemon juice-infused rock salt.

    In order of seniority.

    On global Pay-Per-View, proceeds going toward the debt.

    I imagine they’d quickly find ways to balance the budget.

    It’s all about finding the proper incentive.

  11. Nevada Smith says:

    The concept that Clinton left a surplus has been proven a myth for years….how can you refer to yourself as a credible reporter…check out the CBS report…Clinton just pulled money out of Social Security and made it look like the public debt was reduced….smoke and mirrors my friend….Now, do I think that Bush spent wisely…not really…way too much government…but Obama has achieved the top spending status ever….and yes, we should cut government spending….it’s crazy what they spend our money on…and the generations of welfare recipients must cease…there are opportunities if they will just get off the corner or the couch. Of course they should balance the budget…we have to….I can’t spend more than I have….and as far as the NASA projects are concerned, all of that research has created great new innovations and industries that produce jobs in the private sector…the space program has always been a positive…I don’t mind spending our tax dollars on projects that build the economy and pride in this greatest nation ever on earth…
    Have a great day!

  12. Nevada Smith says:

    Hello neighbors…
    Congress approved Bush going into Iraq and every other conflict we’ve been in since World War I, they have to approve the budget…the United Nations approved our entry into Iraq, also…do you folks remember 9/11 …now I know you’re going to say that Hussein had nothing to do with the Twin Towers….it has been proven that he was very much a part of harboring and cavorting with terrorist movement…but, the real reason we went there as we have done since this country was formed…to help a people who were being tortured by a terrible dictator…with the support of forty nations…and to keep a terrible person from destroying the neighborhood…including the Jews…also it was a strategic move to garner acceptance from the Iraqi people, gain intelligence to support the effort in Afghanistan, to have a “fort” right in the middle of the action and to bring the bad guys to us…rather than chasing them through the mountains….brilliant strategy….there are bad folks out there…we need a strong military…war is not pretty, but it is essential…
    have a great day!

  13. Nevada Smith says:

    Let’s have a lesson on taxation….the Federal tax is the one where you have deductions for raising your children. That’s really a small part of the cost of rearing that next generation….the school systems are funded in very small part by the feds…it’s really not a job they should do….nevertheless they are involved….the lion’s share of taxes for education in this state and others comes from property taxes…yes, we all pay that whether we have kids or not…..and the balance comes from income (flat 5%) and sales taxes, from which there are no deductions….I would just guess that since most Mormons are hard working folks that they carry the largest tax burden in the state….and the LDS Church has their own welfare system that covers a good portion of the ones that need help….now, do we need to discuss all of the financial and labor services in times of need, that the Church provides around the Nation and the world…or shall we just leave that issue quietly on the table….
    Nice chattin’ with you….

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