op-ed

Broad coalition of voters support a balanced budget amendment

Luke Frans Executive Director, Resurgent Republic
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Voters believe Washington needs to stop spending money it doesn’t have, and their frustration doesn’t end there. According to Resurgent Republic’s most recent survey, voters say the economy (61 percent) and the federal government’s finances (67 percent) have gotten worse on President Obama’s watch. Overall, 70 percent of voters say the country is on the wrong track, including 77 percent of Independents.

Voters are looking for solutions that are as broad sweeping, or more so, as Washington’s systemic problems. In other words, the electorate desires a remedy beyond curtailing government cuff links and swag, and that is one reason why they believe passing a balanced budget amendment is a good idea. It’s a serious reform that strengthens the economy and reins in reckless spending and debt.

As tough economic times continue, more families are forced to make due with less. They simply have no other choice. On the other hand, they look at Washington from afar and see those in control playing by a different set of rules. Quite frankly, it’s hard to say they’re wrong.

During the debt ceiling debate, Mr. Obama argued for a “balanced approach” of raising the debt limit without any spending cuts. According to Resurgent Republic polling at the time, nearly 9 in 10 voters rejected this governing philosophy, and ultimately Congress followed suit.

Now Mr. Obama “can’t wait” to add new stimulus money to bad. The Obama administration, however, has learned from at least one mistake it made following its failed $800 billion-plus stimulus: This time, the administration isn’t making any unemployment rate projections.

Examples like these reinforce the notion that Washington is incapable of resetting on its own, especially with Mr. Obama at the helm, and highlight the necessity of passing a balanced budget amendment that is supported by a broad coalition of voters.

Fifty-seven percent of voters agree that a balanced budget amendment is a good idea because it is “the only way we will restore fiscal responsibility, create jobs, and stop spending money we don’t have,” compared to 36 percent who think it is a bad idea because “the federal budget is not like a family budget, and we need the flexibility to respond to economic needs and emergencies,” according to Resurgent Republic’s September survey.

Independent voters look more like Republicans on this issue, as nearly 6 in 10 say a balanced budget amendment is a good idea. When looking at those who strongly agree or disagree, Independents favor the measure by 20 points (37 to 17 percent). On the other side of the aisle, and outside the mainstream, 53 percent of Democrats support the status quo. It is telling, however, that support for a balanced budget amendment among Democrats reaches 39 percent.

If congressional Democrats vote in near-unanimous fashion against a balanced budget amendment this week, they will cut against the grain of a sizable portion of their base. Unlike health care reform, congressional Democrats can pass this legislation because voters — including many in their political base — know and support what’s in it. Then again, this would not be the first time former Speaker Pelosi led her caucus astray.

Mr. Obama is not immune to voter ire either. A balanced budget amendment holds support among critically important 2012 subgroups: female voters (54 to 36 percent), voters age 18 to 34 (56 to 36 percent), and union households (56 to 37 percent). Non-urban voters — the target audience of Mr. Obama’s taxpayer-funded bus tours — support a balanced budget amendment by 61 to 33 percent.

On the presidential ballot, 41 percent of voters who either support Obama or are undecided also agree that a balanced budget amendment makes sense. It’s unlikely that a large portion of these voters will support the Republican nominee due to this issue, but it could dampen voter enthusiasm and Mr. Obama already has little room for error.

The timing of the vote in the House is another perception problem for Mr. Obama. Congressional Republicans are bringing up the balanced budget measure a few days after Mr. Obama’s executive order limiting government swag, making Mr. Obama’s made-for-television announcement his own small-ball equivalent of school uniforms.

As the president repeatedly talks about his “balanced approach” to solving the country’s fiscal problems, it’s clear that the electorate has a different view of what that looks like. Moreover, voters place a higher priority on actions than words, and that is why Mr. Obama remains out of sorts among swing voters. The debate over a balanced budget amendment will deepen that divide.

Luke Frans serves as executive director of Resurgent Republic.