The week before last, members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a plan by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan that they say would balance the budget in 10 years.
Well, yes and no. Mostly no.
It’s "yes" in that it balances the budget thanks to a lot of scenarios and assumptions. It relies on Obamacare being repealed, which is not likely considering President Obama won the election and Democrats control the Senate.
It also presumes to know how much money the government will collect and spend 10 years from now. As Republican Rep. Rick Crawford of eastern Arkansas’ 1st District told me, "We don’t know what the political landscape is going to look like in two years, let alone 10 years."
See why I’m saying it’s mostly no?
Interestingly, Crawford was one of a handful of Republicans who voted against the Ryan plan. I say interestingly because he’s already under fire from an influential group of conservative bigwigs, the Club for Growth, because he’s strayed too far off the reservation.
Last year, he floated the idea of agreeing to a tax hike for people making more than $1 million a year in exchange for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Now the Club is trying to find a more conservative Republican candidate to run against Crawford.
Crawford told me last Friday that he voted against the bill because it didn’t contain any permanent spending controls like that balanced budget amendment he was talking about last year. He asked why Congress would pass a nonbinding resolution when there’s no way to enforce it.
For historical reference, he pointed toward the 1990s, when President Clinton and Congress briefly balanced the budget. Because there was nothing set in stone, he said, "Things got back to normal pretty quick." Before long, Washington was spending money it didn’t have again.
The rest of Arkansas’ congressional delegation — Rep. Tim Griffin in Central Arkansas’ 2nd District, Rep. Steve Womack in Northwest Arkansas’ 3rd District, and Rep. Tom Cotton in southern Arkansas’ 4th District, all Republicans — voted yes.
I’m not going to blame elected officials for voting for what was presented them. But next year’s campaign ads won’t be telling the whole truth if they say that supporters of the plan "voted to balance the budget."
At least Republicans in the House are acting like balancing the budget is important. The Democratic-controlled Senate budget plan — the first of any kind that body has passed in four years — added new spending and taxes without coming anywhere near balance.
Sen. Mark Pryor, who as the state’s lone Democrat faces a far tougher re-election campaign than Crawford, bucked his party and voted no. He said in a statement that the budget failed "to strike the right balance between cutting our spending and setting up a path for future job creation and economic growth." He didn’t mention balancing the budget.
By the way, let’s be clear: When members of Congress talk about "balancing the budget," they’re talking about finally equaling income with outgo on a year-by-year basis – not actually paying down the $16 trillion dollar debt we’re passing on to our children.
Reducing the deficit means adding more debt less quickly.
Earlier this year, Congress passed a "no budget, no pay" provision requiring each chamber to pass a budget or lawmakers would have their salaries deferred. Unfortunately, now we have two budgets that are so far apart that they barely offer starting points for discussion.
Please, no more games where each party says yes to something it knows will result in a no from the other side. If we’re ever going to get anywhere, both parties will have to sit down in a big room, order a bunch of pizzas and keep working until they at least get to maybe.
I suggest pizzas because the parties wouldn’t have to compromise, and everyone could just get what they want.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org