It’s one of Congress’ favorite dog-and-pony shows: the great debate over a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.

There they were on Thursday, righteously indignant members of the U.S. House of Representatives, armed with charts and graphs and folksy homilies, doing their best to pass the buck — or the trillions of bucks, to be a bit more precise.

We’ve heard it all before, of course. Every once in a while, the budget-busting politicians in Washington try to cover their tracks by proposing a law that would force them to do the job they should have been doing all along: controlling the government’s spending to conform with the government’s revenue.

It’s not that complicated, folks. And it doesn’t require us to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Thursday’s House debate was expected to set up a vote today on an amendment designed to give constitutional authority to a plan that opponents say could result in massive cuts in funding for essential programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Critics also argue that the government needs the flexibility of deficit spending during economic downturns, when budget cuts or tax increases mandated by a balanced budget amendment could cause or worsen a recession.

The critics are right.

Nobody likes the national debt, which has surpassed $15 trillion and is growing by the minute, or the annual budget deficits that fuel it. But the current obsession with debt reduction at the expense of every other government responsibility is a recipe for disaster. It would almost certainly exacerbate the misery of countless Americans who look to the federal government for assistance in times of need. And there is the small matter of national defense; mandatory cuts in military spending required by a balanced budget amendment could literally leave our country unable to defend itself against aggression by our enemies.

Under a balanced budget amendment, the alternative to such debilitating spending reductions would be economy-crushing tax increases that would destroy jobs and, ultimately, lead to more debt by depressing economic growth and the federal revenue that comes with it.

A balanced budget amendment, in any form, is a clear-cut example of a cure that is worse than the disease.

The current congressional show and tell is the result of last summer’s debt-ceiling deal that called for a “super committee” to devise a plan for deficit reduction and, as salve for reluctant deficit hawks in the House, also guaranteed a vote on a balanced budget amendment. To become the law of the land, the amendment has to win a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate and then must be approved by 38 state legislatures.

Even if the amendment is approved by the House, where Republicans hold a solid majority and will win over some Democrats on this issue, it’s likely to be rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

How would it fare in the states, if it gets that far?

Hard to say. Most states are required to balance their budgets, so legislators might say, “What’s good for the goose …”

But most states are also deeply dependent on federal money to finance programs and services — including, among many others, highway construction and maintenance, health care, and education. Having often felt the pain of balancing their states’ budgets, legislators might be inclined to let Washington preserve as much flexibility as possible in providing state subsidies.

The truth is, these politicians who are constantly screaming for a balanced budget can balance it if they want to. It would require common sense, which is in short supply in Washington. And it would require political courage, which is nonexistent.

The sad truth — and dirty little secret — about this and every previous balanced budget debate is that the folks in Washington don’t expect it to become law, and even some of its most vocal advocates don’t want it to pass.

If they actually balanced the budget, after all, they couldn’t use budget deficits as a campaign issue when they run for re-election. And they couldn’t brag about balancing the budget because they’d have to share the credit with those on the other side of the aisle who helped to get it done.

Unfortunately, this is the same attitude that Congress brings to all the difficult problems facing our country. It’s the reason we have gridlock. It’s the reason nothing gets done in Washington. For the politicians, there is simply nothing to gain when they solve a problem.

And, apparently, nothing to lose when they don’t.