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Balancing the Budget
There are all kinds of numbers being thrown around in Washington. Congressional Budget Office projections, Office of Management and Budget projections, projections all over the place. Unfortunately, all these projections have one thing in common. They are all attempts to foretell the future, and not just next week or next month, but seven years ahead. No one in the country believes any of the projections. In truth, no one in Washington believes them either. They are simply a complex political game being played, and real Americans are not invited to play.
With the fudging already projected, the so called "conservatives" in Washington are, by their own projections, going to balance the budget by first running up bigger deficits for the first few years. I don't know about you, but to me that seems a lot like traveling from New York to New Jersey by way of California. Plans based on projections like these don't hold anyone in Washington to any kind of standard. No one will be able to point to anything and say "the plan isn't working" until the seven years are actually up, and the budget isn't balanced.
There is only one number in the budget debate that is moderately resistant to fudging. That number is the actual deficit figure measured at the end of each year. This is a real number, it is pretty close to the amount of money the government spent minus the amount it took in (of course, it isn't exactly that, in Washington even simple arithmetic gets fudged and redefined). Despite the moderate fudging that takes place, the actual deficit figure is much closer to an accurate number than any projection could ever be. And despite the fudging, the deficit is a number that gets computed each and every year for all the world to see.
If politicians were actually serious about balancing the budget, then any budget plan they adopted would call for the deficit to get smaller every year. If the deficit gets smaller each year, it is mathematically certain that the budget will eventually balance, because the deficit can't keep getting smaller without hitting zero. This momentous event will be absolutely inevitable whether it occurs in five years or seven years or ten years. And unlike the existing plans for budget balancing, there is a publicly visible checkpoint each and every year when the deficit is calculated.
If the deficit really did get smaller, then we are still on track towards a balanced budget. If the deficit goes up, then the politicians have violated their word and broken faith with their plan to balance the budget, and we don't have to wait seven years to discover that fact, we find out right away when the deficit increases.
So if Washington was serious about budget balancing, the plan they adopt would hold the government to a standard which allowed the people to see if things are working out (here we are once again tied in with the concept of performance measurement for government). On the other hand if Washington is just blowing smoke for political effect, the plan they adopt won't have any performance standards and there won't be any way to check its progress until the end date when everyone suddenly finds it in a shambles.
The various balanced budget amendments which have been proposed are equally bogus as all the other budget balancing talk. If Washington wanted a serious balanced budget amendment, it would look something like this.