Heard Tim Pawlenty on Meet the Press this morning. Though David Gregory is a poor replacement for Tim Russert in that he generally lacks personality (trending toward douche-y), Dim Tim is about as exciting as a house painted white with black shutters, and about as intelligent as paint chips...
He did a nice job of hitting on one of my pet peeves, though, with his repeated use of the phrase, "but I have a plan." Followed by less-than-zero amount of articulation of that plan. If you have a plan, describe it, Dim Tim! Enlighten us with the details!
But he, and his brethren in both parties, can't talk about "Their Plan" because a) it isn't their plan, and they don't really understand it (minions wrote it and gave them talking points--can't stray from the script, now, can we?) and b) "Their Plan" isn't anything different or unique; it is just more of the same wine in a slightly different bottle. So they just allude to a plan and when pressed say, "It's on my website," and talk about something else. Nice.
Dim Tim did raise the point of being in favor of a Constitutional Amendment to require a balanced budget as a way to fix the current problems with the debt ceiling. Gregory dropped the ball by not pointing out that such an amendment is a colossally bad idea for lots of reasons. One is that you can't balance the US budget as it currently stands in one fiscal year, which such an amendment would necessitate. Another is that debt isn't a bad thing, and borrowing is how the world works now, so we could play ostrich, shove our heads in the sand and not do what every other nation and business and person does, relying only on tax revenues to provide the services our government is legally obligated to (like Social Security and Medicare) or we could play in the same park as everyone else (just more responsibly...)
One of my favorite reasons why balanced budget Amendments are bad is that such an amendment would hamstring the United States government's ability to be somewhat flexible with their money. This is important in that when confronting a natural disaster like, I dunno, Katrina, such an amendment would severely limit the government's ability to steer needed aid to the disaster agencies trying to help people. ('cause do you budget for only one natural disaster a year? two? How big? What is a "disaster?" Tornadoes in Springfield? Forest fires near Los Alamos? Hurricane's larger than category 2 only in urban areas?)
"Gee folks," says President Dim Tim, "Love to help you, but see, I'm legally required to only spend what I take in, and I can't raise taxes, so, sorry. No money to help you re-build vital infrastructure like hospitals and schools. And no money to help pay the workers who FEMA has to send to the area to help do things like open up the roads and bury the dead. Families and charities will have to step up and shoulder the costs."
"Gosh citizens," says President Dim Tim, "I'm afraid that we can't respond to those nasty terrorists who [insert horrific event here]. In order to find them and retaliate, we'd have to spend more than our budget currently allows, and I'm obligated by law to make sure we don't do that. But what I can do is try to juggle our already thin military with our sparse equipment (can't afford to buy more, you know!) and see if I can get more troops in harm's way....and can't pay their salary either...But I'm really fired up about this!"
Dim Tim's an Idiot (with a capital I). Balanced budget amendments are stupid. Balanced budgets are smart and good things on all levels of the economy, but even the best of budgets can't possibly respond to all contingencies that can arise. Flexibility is a necessity in this day and age, and Amendments to the Constitution aren't the solution to any economic problems.
As an aside, the historical record of states/governments that endure when they can't pay their armed forces well is: armed forces led-coups: 100, broke governments: 0. That's a lesson to pay attention to...