Hatch, Cornyn unveil balanced budget amendment

“Time after time, Washington has promised to bring down the debt, but then kept the spending going – increasing the mountain of debt our kids and grandkids will have to pay for,” Hatch said. 

The senators’ announcement came on the same day the Congressional Budget Office released its estimate saying the federal budget deficit increased to $1.5 trillion this fiscal year.

The proposed amendment — which currently has the support of 19 other Republican senators — would mandate  spending not exceed revenues in any given fiscal year. It would also limit federal spending to 20 percent of gross domestic product and force any legislation that raises taxes to get two-thirds approval in both the House and the Senate. 

The planks in the amendment could be pushed aside if the United States is at war or in a military conflict, as well as with the support of two-thirds of both houses of Congress. 

On Wednesday, several top Democrats pushed back at the amendment in various news conferences on Capitol Hill. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the chairman of the Budget Committee, said he had not examined the measure, but added he could not support it if it was similar to past proposals — which he said raided the Social Security trust fund to make up for current spending. 

For their part, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, both signaled they believed balancing the budget should not involve the Constitution and instead should be done through more normal legislative channels. 

At a news conference discussing the amendment, Cornyn said the group had not yet reached out to Democrats for support. But the Texan also noted that the push for the amendment had just begun and that 11 Democratic senators had backed the idea in a 1997 vote. 

Hatch and Cornyn have also noted the 1997 balanced budget amendment received 66 votes in the Senate — one short of the number needed to advance. 

Of the Democratic senators who voted yes at that time, four — Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — are still in the chamber. (The current vice president, Joe Biden, also voted yes.)

Lawmakers in the House are also moving forward with proposed balanced budget amendments. One measure from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) already has 160 co-sponsors, including a handful of Democrats.