Many politicians and members of the public who are frustrated with the inability of Congress and the president to make responsible fiscal choices have proposed a seemingly simple solution: Amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget.
While the sentiment behind this idea is understandable, it would be very difficult in practice to compel a balanced budget each year, and attempting to enforce it through the courts would be all but impossible.
A common excuse for inaction on federal deficits is that relative to the size of the economy, they aren’t abnormally large and are projected to stay that way for a few more years. Furthermore, current projections may prove to be overly pessimistic, the argument goes, so what reason do today’s policymakers have to act immediately?
When The Concord Coalition was founded in 1992, the national debt was on a sharp upward trajectory. Yet just five years later, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed legislation passed by a Republican Congress that implemented the first balanced budget in decades. By the time Clinton left the White House, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting a 10-year surplus of over $5 trillion and there was even discussion about whether the national debt could be paid off entirely.