(CNSNews.com) - Bill Clinton joined other Democratic leaders in opposing the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) a few years back, but now, in the midst of wartime, rank-and-file Democrats are saying they think it's a good idea.
Nearly seven out of 10 Democrats said they would feel more secure about America's economic future if the Constitution required Congress to balance the federal budget during peacetime, according to a new poll sponsored by the National Taxpayers Union.
At the same time, 61 percent of Republicans thought so.
The majority of lawmakers signed on to the balanced budget amendment resolution from Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), however, are Republican.
The Congressional Budget Office projects a $246 billion deficit for Fiscal Year 2003, not counting any further tax or spending legislation or additional funding for military activity in the Middle East. CBO estimates that the tax and spending legislation proposed by the president (as of March 10) would increase the federal deficit by $41 billion in 2003, resulting in a total shortfall of $287 billion.
Former President Clinton used to call the BBA a threat to the Treasury's ability to pay Social Security benefits. "These are results no one wants to see happen, but a balanced budget amendment could surely produce them," Clinton said in 1997.
Now, it seems, some Democrats are humming a different tune.
"We're clearly the fiscally responsible party," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Guillermo Meneses in response to the poll results.
"Balancing the budget without hurting the vital services...and hardworking people of this country should be a priority for this president," said Meneses. "We're not seeing that by the way he is continuing to move forward with a fiscally irresponsible tax cut that will put in jeopardy the future of our children."
Meneses noted that official figures put last month's job loss at 108,000 and consumer confidence dipping.
Ed Kilgore, policy director for the Democratic Leadership Council, believes that what Democrats really want is not a constitutional amendment but simply a balanced budget.
"Support for a balanced budget amendment in the eyes of a lot of voters is really just an indication of whether you support a balanced budget," said Kilgore.
Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, said some Democrats might be supporting the amendment in reaction against Bush's tax cuts and budget priorities. But, said Sepp, "with these many Democrats supporting - or at least claiming to support - a balanced budget amendment, no Democrat in Congress should stand against a vote right now."
But it's Republicans who have come the furthest from their long-held beliefs, says Kilgore.
Since President Bush was elected, Republicans have abandoned fiscal discipline as a principle, Kilgore contends, in favor of enacting tax cuts, in part, specifically to produce budget deficits.
"If you talk to a lot of Republican privately...a lot of them subscribe to what's called the 'starve the beast theory,'" said Kilgore. The idea, he continued, is to cut taxes, drive up deficits and thereby restrict government starting new programs or expanding old ones. That path to smaller government would, in theory, circumvent the political risk of cutting specific programs.
"I call it kind of a 'gutless Gingrichism,'" said Kilgore.
Congress has at various times in the past voted for a balanced budget amendment but never both chambers during the same session.
Constitutional amendments must garner two-thirds of both chambers plus three-fourths of state legislatures.
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