U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, wants a balanced budget amendment. Many Democrats and Republicans agree with him.
Brooks also favors a reduction in foreign aid the United States pays to further strategic and humanitarian goals. Here again, many in both parties agree.
Brooks is in a distinct minority, however, if he believes either of these goals can be reached in a few days or weeks.
Most in Congress recognize there are many situations in which maintaining an annual balanced budget would be catastrophic. Had the most common versions of such an amendment been in effect as recently as 2008, the banking system would have collapsed. Wars and recessions are known justifications for exceeding a budget. Creating flexibility for Congress to exceed spending limits when necessary without undermining the amendment’s purpose is problematic.
None of this is to say Congress should not be working toward a balanced budget amendment, only that the process is complex. A simplistic amendment would not pass, and shouldn’t.
The same complexities apply to foreign aid. Cutting off foreign aid to some countries — Pakistan, for instance — might require increased military expenditures. Reducing aid to Israel would ignite political controversy. Cutting aid to other countries would result in widespread starvation.
A worthy solution requires input from many sources, domestic and foreign, and will require time-consuming compromise.
Brooks would be a valuable member of Congress if he was seeking bipartisan consensus on the details of such deficit-reducing plans. Instead, he is using the plans as wedge issues.
Brooks was the only Alabama representative to vote Wednesday against suspending the debt ceiling until after upcoming budget negotiations. He would only vote in favor of suspending or raising the debt limit, he told a national television audience, if it was coupled with a balanced budget amendment. The nation would have defaulted on its debt payments or other obligations, however, in about three weeks.
The many Social Security recipients and defense employees in north Alabama can be thankful Brooks’ proposal was rejected.
After being ridiculed nationally for voting against supplementing the flood insurance program with $9.7 billion to assist victims of superstorm Sandy, Brooks was indignant. He had proposed more than double the proposed funding, he said, and simply tied it to equal reductions in foreign aid.
The thousands of Alabamians left homeless by Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 tornadoes can be thankful they did not have to wait for federal assistance until contentious and unrelated issues could make it through Congress.
If Brooks would seek consensus rather than the publicity that comes with brinkmanship, he could be a positive force for fiscal reform in Washington. He apparently believes his constituents in north Alabama enjoy his tactics. No doubt, some do.
Those who are tired of a Congress that prefers bickering to compromise, however, should ask him to become part of the solution.