Moderate Democrats Back Balanced-Budget Amendment, Countering Liberals

(Bloomberg) -- A group of moderate House Democrats is proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution as they try to further distance themselves from the party’s progressive wing, which is backing big boosts in spending for social programs and infrastructure.

The move by the so-called Blue Dog Coalition adds to tension over ideology and priorities among Democrats as the House prepares to vote this week on legislation that would add $350 billion in deficit spending over the next two years.

The divisions over big-ticket liberal priorities like Medicare for All and possible tax increases to pay for them prompted House Democrats to abandon plans to pass a 10-year budget blueprint.

The 27-member Blue Dog Coalition says it’s backing an amendment proposed by Utah Representative Ben McAdams, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2020. The amendment would allow deficits during wars or recessions and would shield Social Security and Medicare from court-enforced cuts. The requirement for spending to equal revenue would take effect five years after ratification, to allow for a transition period.

"Both parties have behaved in a way that is fiscally irresponsible," McAdams said. "The day of reckoning is coming."

The idea of adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution has been debated for years, frequently with the backing of Republicans. But in a political turnabout, GOP lawmakers who criticized deficit spending during the Obama administration have shied away from the issue as the budget shortfall has ballooned under President Donald Trump.

Past proposals to enact such an amendment haven’t made much progress, and any new attempt would take years. Congress would need to approve the proposal with two-thirds majorities of the House and Senate, and 38 states would need to ratify it.

The Democratic moderates say drastic action is needed as the national debt exceeds $22 trillion and there’s been no serious attempt to curtail its growth.

McAdams said the party needs to realize that in swing districts like his, budget deficits worry voters.

"In my district, fiscal responsibility matters. People live within their means and they are responsible with the decisions that they make, and we expect the same from our federal government," he said.

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