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War, Taxes, and Priorities

The Senate will shortly consider the McConnell-Hatch balanced budget amendment, which prohibits any deficit in any year, prohibits tax increases, and caps total spending at implausibly low levels (about 16½ percent of gross domestic product) — requiring a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to overturn these provisions.  It also requires a three-fifths vote of both houses to raise the debt limit.

We’ve written about the serious adverse economic effects of creating a constitutional requirement to balance the budget every year, regardless of the state of the economy, and about the massive cuts that the spending cap would produce in Social Security, Medicare, and all other programs.

But it’s worth noting — especially on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which plunged this nation into its biggest and costliest war — that while the amendment would allow Congress to run deficits, exceed the spending cap, or raise the debt limit by a simple majority vote if the nation is officially at war, raising taxes would still require a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate.

In other words, if the nation is at war, majority rule would determine how much we spend to prosecute that war, and majority rule would allow us to run the deficits and accumulate the debt to finance that spending.  But the nation could not cover any portion of the war’s costs by raising taxes unless it could muster a two-thirds vote in both houses.

The implication is that keeping taxes low represents a higher national priority than raising revenue to finance a war.

Even if there were no other reasons to oppose the amendment, this is reason enough.