A Look at the Balanced Budget Amendment

As the Balanced Budget Amendment once again comes to the front of political debates, I wondered what David Primo thought about the return of the BBA to public notice. Primo is the author of Rules and Restraint: Government Spending and the Design of Institutions.

John Samples: David, you have studied the history and politics of budgeting by Congress and the federal government. Your studies led to your book Rules and Restraint which, as I recall, was somewhat skeptical of the constitutional solutions requiring a balanced budget. What did you think of the importance the House Republicans attached to the Balanced Budget Amendment?

David Primo: Supporters of the BBA are certainly correct that constitutional restraints on Congress will help restore fiscal discipline to the federal government.  It’s unfortunate, however, that the BBA has become so politicized.  Without buy-in from Democrats, the chances of ratification are nil.  I understand the fear of compromise here; we don’t want a poorly constructed rule placed into the Constitution, after all.  That said, I’d love to see serious reformers like the Gang of Six get together and craft a constitutional budget rule that has a chance of being ratified.  Rep. Justin Amash has also introduced an amendment that is a twist on traditional BBA proposals, and it deserves to be part of the debate.