The constitutional balanced budget amendment that the House is expected to consider this week could force Congress to cut all programs by an average of 17.3 percent by 2018. If revenues are not raised (the House-passed budget resolution assumes no increase above current-policy levels) and all programs are cut by the same percentage, Social Security would be cut $184 billion in 2018 alone and almost $1.2 trillion through 2021; Medicare would be cut $117 billion in 2018 and about $750 billion through 2021; and Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would be cut $80 billion in 2018 and about $500 billion through 2021.
If policymakers limit cuts to some programs, other programs would have to be cut more deeply. For instance, if Social Security is exempted from cuts needed to meet the balanced budget mandate, other programs would have to be cut by nearly one-fourth, on average.
The balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution that the House will consider this week would be a highly ill-advised way to address the nation’s long-term fiscal problems. It would threaten significant economic harm while raising a host of problems for the operation of Social Security and other vital federal functions.
The economic problems are the most serious. By requiring a balanced budget every year, no matter the state of the economy, the amendment would raise serious risks of tipping weak economies into recession and making recessions longer and deeper, causing very large job losses. That’s because the amendment would force policymakers to cut spending, raise taxes, or both just when the economy is weak or already in recession — the exact opposite of what good economic policy would advise.