MSNBC's Alter and Bashir Agree: 'We'd Be in a Depression Now if There Had Been a Balanced Budget Amendment in 2009'

On Monday's "Martin Bashir," MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter proclaimed that America would "be in a depression now if there had been a balanced budget amendment in 2009." Bashir, concurring with the former Newsweek editor, added, "Indeed."

Reacting to Rep. John Boehner's (R-Ohio) press conference about the debt-ceiling deal, Alter and Bashir mocked the speaker's suggestion that a balanced budget amendment is needed to "handcuff" Congress.

[WMV video here. MP3 audio here.]

"Yeah, I mean, I'm laughing at that because let's say we'd had a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in early 2009 when we were losing close to 800,000 jobs a month and headed for another Great Depression," groused Alter, a former Newsweek editor. "By Speaker Boehner's terms, we wouldn't have had any government efforts to try to end that near depression."

Alter's implicit assumption that President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus package was successful belies a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, an anemic housing market, and public opinion polls showing Americans think the country has been, and continues to be, on the wrong track.

Not only that, but a balanced budget amendment does not preclude the possibility of injecting stimulus in times of economic distress, but rather, it forces Congress to prioritize spending to live within its means.

It's not surprising that Alter would employ hyperbolic language to denigrate Republican proposals. After all, Alter told MSNBC's Cenk Uygur in April that in supporting the Ryan plan, the GOP voted to "throw granny into the snow."

A transcript of the segment can be found below:

MSNBC
Martin Bashir
August 1, 2011

3:45 p.m. Eastern

LUKE RUSSERT, NBC congressional correspondent: The most interesting thing that he said though, was when he spoke at length about a balanced budget amendment.

MARTIN BASHIR: Indeed.

RUSSERT: That is a direct attempt to cater to the Tea Party part of his conference, essentially saying hey look, I know this is the framework of your Cut, Cap, and Balance that we tried to pass a couple weeks ago. The idea of this balanced budget amendment, saying this is the best chance I've had for it in the 20 years I've been here to try and garner support for it, that is trying to say to these Tea Party folks, hey come on board. If we extend this plan, albeit it's not perfect, but we'll have a great opportunity to try to pass a balanced budget amendment down the line.

BASHIR: Indeed. Speaker Boehner actually said we would never have gotten into this mess in the first place had we had a balanced budget amendment.

(Laughter)

RUSSERT: Correct. That's the code word for the Tea Party, this balanced budget amendment.

BASHIR: Jonathan Alter, you were laughing at that.

JONATHAN ALTER: Yeah, I mean, I'm laughing at that because let's say we'd had a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in early 2009 when we were losing close to 800,000 jobs a month and headed for another Great Depression. By Speaker Boehner's terms, we wouldn't have had any government efforts –

BASHIR: Stimulus, nothing.

ALTER: To try to end that near depression. Does he really think the country would have been better off if the Congress had been handcuffed and unable to take any measures to fight a coming depression? I think we'd be in a depression now if there had been a balanced budget amendment in 2009.

BASHIR: Indeed. Jonathan Alter, Luke Russert, and Joy Ann Reid, thanks so much for joining us.

--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.