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Greenstein on the Perils of a Balanced Budget Amendment

November 30, 2011 at 6:37 PM
BY
CBPP

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights today, Center President Robert Greenstein explained why a constitutional balanced budget amendment would be unwise.  Here’s the opening of his testimony:

Thank you for the invitation to testify today.  I am Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a policy institute that focuses both on fiscal policy and on policies affecting low- and moderate-income Americans.  We, like most others who analyze fiscal policy developments and trends, believe that the nation’s fiscal policy is on an unsustainable course.  As part of our work, we have been analyzing proposed changes in budget procedures for more than 20 years.  We have conducted extensive analyses of proposals to write a balanced-budget requirement into the Constitution, among other proposals.

The purpose of changing our fiscal policy course is to strengthen our economy over the long term and to prevent the serious economic damage that would likely occur if the debt explodes in future decades as a share of the economy.  But we need to choose our fiscal policy instruments carefully.  We want to avoid “destroying the village in order to save it.”

The goal of a constitutional balanced budget amendment is to address our long-term fiscal imbalance.  Unfortunately, a constitutional balanced budget amendment would be a highly ill-advised way to try to do that and likely would cause serious economic damage.  It would require a balanced budget every year regardless of the state of the economy, unless a supermajority of both houses overrode that requirement.  This is an unwise stricture that large numbers of mainstream economists have long counseled against, because it would require the largest budget cuts or tax increases precisely when the economy is weakest.  It holds substantial risk of tipping faltering economies into recessions and making recessions longer and deeper.  The additional job losses would likely be very large.

Click here for the full testimony.