WASHINGTON - A balanced budget amendment may be fine for states, but it's a bad match for the federal government, Rep. William L. Owens said Monday.
With the Republican-led House poised this week to debate such a mandate for federal budgeting, as well as some of the deepest program cuts yet discussed, Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, suggested in a telephone interview that the GOP leadership is pursuing a poor approach to managing the government.
"First of all, I think it's a bad governance idea," Mr. Owens said. Unlike states - some of which do require balanced budgets - the federal government bears the costs of wars that can plunge the government into the red, as well as having to ride out and manage national economic crises.
Second, Mr. Owens said he finds a hint of contradiction in the Republican position. Although many conservatives say the Constitution should be followed strictly as written and according to the framers' intent, he said, they appear to overlook the fact the framers made no specific provision for a balanced budget despite considerable debate at that time about government debt.
A constitutional amendment has little chance of becoming reality, Mr. Owens said. But Republican leaders are presenting it for a vote as part of a conservative-leaning package that may give lawmakers cover for eventually supporting an increase in the debt ceiling and budget cuts that fall short of tea party activists' goals.
The legislation before the House today, called "Cut, Cap and Balance," caps spending for fiscal 2012 at slightly more than $1 trillion, or $30 billion less than this year. It would cap spending at 19.9 percent of gross domestic product by 2021.
It also raises the federal debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion, but only if both the House and Senate achieve the two-thirds majority vote necessary to send a balanced budget amendment to the states - all but impossible with Democrats running the Senate and even Republican support perhaps not universal.
Unlike an annual budget resolution that has no force of law, the measure the House considers today would have real-life consequences for government programs.
Mr. Owens said he had not spoken to any of his Republican colleagues about this week's measure but would probably discuss it with Reps. Richard L. Hanna, R-Barneveld, and Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who have shown some willingness to split with conservative elements in the GOP on the deepest cuts to government programs.