In a shocking policy statement released last week, Democrat Jason Kander—who is running for US Senate to unseat Republican incumbent Roy Blunt—announced that he supports a Balanced Budget amendment to the US Constitution.
That is a very odd policy position for a Democrat. Usually, this balanced-budget stuff is the bailiwick of Republicans, who claim that it’s a more responsible way to run government. Democrats usually oppose this kind of policy. Here are some of the reasons behind their opposition, from a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution:
Budget deficits are sometimes beneficial, not just in times of war but also during economic slowdowns.
A balanced-budget amendment brings the threat of political extortion by a congressional minority. Requiring a super-majority to run a deficit “is a veritable summons to political extortion by an intransigent minority” and could trigger a constitutional crisis.
It is unwise to lock into the Constitution an economic variable of limiting government spending to 18 or 20 percent of economic output, since that level may need to change based on facts and circumstances.
And conventional [Democratic] wisdom says that the whole notion of a balanced budget is just a code-word, cover-story for making sure that, when the budget has to be balanced, cuts will come from social programs and the safety net, not from military spending, or from tax advantages for the wealthiest.
So, what is Kander thinking here?
Maybe he thinks that supporting the balanced budget concept will co-opt Blunt, who has co-sponsored such a measure many times during his tenure in Washington DC. In this line of thinking, Kander’s support for the amendment “takes the issue off the table” in the campaign. He has said that a national constitutional amendment would merely take its cue from similar balanced-budget measures in many states. [Yeah, but what if balanced state budgets are a bad idea, too? Not a very good example. The federal government should be smarter than the states.]
Or maybe he thought that his supporters wouldn’t notice. It’s sort of an obscure issue, after all, and probably not top-of-mind for most people. But if that’s the case, why send out a tweet about it? Why make it an issue at all? Why not do what most real Democrats do, and oppose it.
Sorry, Jason. I liked you as Missouri Secretary of State. And I was just about to sign up to volunteer for your campaign, on the recommendation of a friend whose opinion I value. But now that you’ve announced this policy, I’m less likely to help you out. This is exactly the kind of stinkin’ thinkin’ that other Missouri Democrats have engaged in as a ploy to appeal to Republican voters. Prime example: Robin Carnahan, another former MO Secretary of State tilted rightward in a previous election, sullying her previously stellar reputation, alienating many supporters, and failing to swing any Republican voters her way, and, of course, ultimately losing the election.]
When will these cowardly Democrats learn? In Missouri, you’re not going to grab any Republican voters by pretending to support conservative ideas. If they want a Republican, they’re going to vote for one. You’re not fooling them. You can’t out-Republican Missouri Republicans. But what you are doing is alienating Democrats.
What we need are not Republican-light Democrats. We need progressive Democrats—Democrats who are not afraid to work for liberal policies. When Democrats pull this fake conservative bullshit, what they take off the table is the progressive message. And that is really sad, because a lot of people may call themselves conservative, but expect to receive the services brought to them by progressive ideas [Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, TANF, fully funded police and fire services, infrastructure—to name just a few.] They just don’t realize it. They should be reminded. That’s a really important job for Democrats. And that’s why I have zero patience for Democrats who support terrible, right-wing policies like a balanced- budget amendment.
I await an explanation from Kander.