One of the despicable things about politics is when lawmakers do stuff just for show, usually to pander to some perceived political base, with no real intention of anything coming of it. That pretty much sums up the U.S. House of Representatives' effort to try to get a balanced budget amendment added to the U.S. Constitution.

One of the despicable things about politics is when lawmakers do stuff just for show, usually to pander to some perceived political base, with no real intention of anything coming of it. That pretty much sums up the U.S. House of Representatives' effort to try to get a balanced budget amendment added to the U.S. Constitution.


The House was set to vote on the measure this week - perhaps even Tuesday, though not yet at this writing - with majority Republican leaders tying it to their support for raising the debt ceiling by some $2.4 trillion. Called "cut, cap and balance," it would also reduce the budget by at least $100 billion in 2012 and handcuff Uncle Sam on spending to 18 percent of the size of the economy over the next decade, with the modern-era average at about 20 percent of GDP. And it doesn't have a prayer of passing. Even if the House were of a mind to go this route, the Democrat-controlled Senate wouldn't, and even if it did, President Barack Obama would veto it.


As to amending the Constitution, first, to even pretend this is some sort of solution to the current budget and deficit dilemma is laughable. Article V of the Constitution spells out a few ways to get from here to there on a new amendment, one of which has been by far the most commonly used - in fact, all but once. The wheels would be set in motion by both houses of Congress passing a bill by two-thirds majorities. Even if all 240 Republicans in the House were to vote in the affirmative, they would still need some 50 Democrats to go along, which seems unlikely. In the Senate, 67 votes would be needed, and that's even more unlikely with Dems in the majority. In any event, no president's signature is required.


If by some remarkable turn Congress were to send an amendment to the states, the approval of three-quarters of them - through their legislatures or conventions, 38 states - is necessary to ratify. As one might guess, this would take a while. Congress typically places a time limit on amendment approval. In the past that has been seven years. Last one checked, the deadline for raising the debt ceiling is Aug. 2. A balanced budget amendment isn't coming to anyone's rescue.


Second, Obama is right, "we do not have any more time to engage in symbolic gestures." Beyond that, "we don't need a constitutional amendment to do our jobs." In fact balancing the budget is within the capability of the federal government now, no amendment necessary. Arguably this is about providing political cover to those elected representatives who wish not to suffer the fallout from their decisions, should they ever have the courage to make them knowing that their votes actually mean something. When Congress hikes the eligibility age for Medicare, or reduces Social Security costs by changing the inflation index, or begins means testing for those programs, its members can tell those baby boomers swelling the entitlement ranks, hey, the Constitution made them do it.


To those who would say it's not about that at all, that given the charged political climate it's impossible to seriously curb spending or do what's necessary to balance the budget otherwise, well, Democrat President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress put the lie to that in relatively recent memory.


Finally, it's fair to point out that Illinois has a balanced budget provision in its constitution, and a lot of good that does. The Legislature and governor routinely ignore it, with impunity. No one holds them accountable, at the ballot box or anyplace else. Would Congress be any different? Where there's a will, there's a way for politicians to go around anything.


At this writing communication between the feuding parties is ongoing, with a late compromise being put together by the Senate's so-called Gang of Six. Multiple scenarios were on the table, combinations of plans put together by both sides; what has emerged is a proposal to shave some $4 trillion in deficit spending over the next decade, while halving the number of income tax brackets and lowering the rates across the board. It may not be enough for the purists to swallow, but may the pragmatists prevail.


It may be naive, but it's impossible to believe that the decision-makers in Washington, D.C., will bring the nation to the brink of default. Perhaps the most likely scenario is, as Obama says, that "Washington operates as usual and can't get anything done," everybody blinks - or at least the leadership does, because they've been around long enough to appreciate what's at stake even if the rookies around them don't - and that some compromise is hatched to "at least avert Armageddon."


That's how low America's aspirations are these days - to "avert Armageddon" - with the political leadership of both parties less interested in fixing problems than in posturing, pandering and pushing for electoral advantage. And so it goes, as the American people get ever more frustrated, and rightfully so, with the gamesmanship.


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.