In the American system of government it is famously difficult to get anything done. The framers of the Constitution built in checks and balances because they believed, wisely, that efficiency was less important than preventing abuse of power. But their design has become encrusted with further frustrating devices.

To get any significant legislation passed, a president has to make private deals with members of Congress to give them projects or appointments they want. The process has become a series of mutual vetoes and extractions. To change any vested privilege - sugar protection, cheap grazing on federal land, whatever - has become virtually impossible.Now Congress is moving to give special interests and minority factions even greater influence in the process. That is the real meaning of the proposal known as the constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.

The name of the proposal is a hypocritical cover for what would really happen if the amendment became part of the Constitution. Balancing the budget would be just as political and just as painful as it is now. But minorities would have much more power to feather their own nests.

The proposed amendment says that Congress must pass a balanced budget - unless 60 percent of the members of each house suspend that rule. It takes no genius to realize what the result would be. Presidents and congressional leaders would make deals to get that 60 percent. And individual members would have more leverage.

The whole difficulty in ending budget deficits, since President Reagan spent us into grotesque debt, is that people do not want to give up their own benefits. The 60 percent rule will not change that aspect of human nature.

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., is the principal Senate sponsor of the proposal. In a fact sheet he asked: "What if Congress simply doesn't balance the budget. How is this amendment enforced?" In answer he said in part that members of Congress or the attorney general might be able to sue - "And the final arbiter will be, as in all constitutional matters, the Supreme Court."

Now there is a wonderful prospect. Congress phonies up the figures and passes a budget that really has a deficit. Then the Supreme Court, no doubt after years of legal proceedings, is supposed to tell us what the true figures are. Or more likely it would wash its hands of a matter so ill suited to judicial resolution.

A proposal to add such a quack remedy to the profundities of our Constitution might seem to have little chance of adoption. Not so. Last year the amendment came close to the needed two-thirds majority in both houses. And this year the effect of Perotism and all the talk about the budget deficit have increased its chances. Of 14 new senators elected in 1992, 11 are supporting the amendment. They could tip the Senate over the two-thirds mark.

The Senate was originally scheduled to debate the amendment before Thanksgiving. Now the issue has been put off until February. But no one should think that the postponement will weaken the proponents. To the contrary, the prospect of facing voters in 1994 could scare more members into saying yes.

In a secret ballot, my guess is that the proposal would lose soundly in both houses. But many members may feel that they have to bow to the sacred cow of a balanced budget, however hypocritical the particular idea may be. It is up to us, the citizens, to tell them that we do not want a new device to hobble our already limping institutions.