Conservatives start new push for 'balance' in the Constitution

Conservatives start new push for 'balance' in the Constitution
© Greg Nash

Conservatives in Congress are reviving the push for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution now that Republicans control both houses of Congress.

GOP lawmakers in both chambers have filed several amendment proposals in the early days of the congressional session, breathing new life into an issue that had faded somewhat from the agenda.

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“I came here with a clear mission: work to get a balanced budget and do my best to reduce the size and scope of government, so that our small businesses and farm families can grow and create jobs,” said Freshman Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.) in a recent speech on the House floor.

Rouzer is among the more than 140 lawmakers who are co-sponsoring legislation from Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteLawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program House votes to crack down on undocumented immigrants with gang ties House Judiciary Dems want panel to review gun silencer bill MORE (R-Va.) that would bar Congress from spending more money than the government takes in. The plan would require a majority in the House and Senate to pass tax increases and a three-fifths majority to raise the debt limit.

The amendment has the backing of only one Democrat, Rep. Pete DeFazio (Ore.).

The proposal is identical to legislation that was brought up in the House and Senate in 2011 after Republicans made a vote on a balanced-budget amendment a condition for raising the debt ceiling.

That amendment failed in both chambers, falling short of the two-thirds majorities needed to send it to the states for ratification.

But now that the Senate has flipped to Republican control, conservatives say it’s time to try again.

Goodlatte, who has unveiled balanced-budget amendments in every Congress since 2007, said a balanced-budget amendment is needed to force the “tough decisions necessary for fiscal responsibility.”

“It is time for Congress to put an end to fiscal irresponsibility and stop saddling future generations with crushing debts to pay for our current spending. We must rise above partisanship and join together to send a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification,” Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

Goodlatte has introduced a second amendment proposal that would require a balanced federal budget, place a spending cap on spending and impose a three-fifths supermajority vote in Congress for increasing the debt ceiling and raising taxes. That plan has more than 90 co-sponsors.

Reps. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) have also put forward balanced-budget amendments in the House.

“Many states, including New Jersey, are required to balance their state budgets, yet the federal government continues to spend more than it takes in,” said Lance, who is credited with pushing New Jersey’s constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

Across the Capitol, Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Utah) has filed his own balanced-budget amendment, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchFinance to hold hearing on ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea Week ahead in finance: Clock ticking for GOP on tax reform MORE (R-Utah) has one coming down the pike, his aides say. 

Hatch has introduced such proposals in the past. President Ronald Reagan once referred to him as “Mr. Balanced Budget.”

It remains unclear whether GOP leaders will bring any of the new proposals up for a vote.

Aides to Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about the amendment push.

The procedural obstacles facing an amendment are high, because even if an amendment secures the two-thirds majority needed for passage — which is unlikely, given Democratic opposition — it would have to be ratified by 38 states to take effect.

Still, McConnell and then-Senate Minority Whip John CornynJohn CornynNew GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Week ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets GOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts MORE (R-Texas) were building support in their conference for an amendment in February 2013, though the effort went nowhere with Democrats in control of the upper chamber.

Democrats have leveled multiple objections against a budget amendment, pointing to the surplus from the late 1990s under President Clinton to argue it isn’t necessary for cutting the deficit.

“It was Bill ClintonBill ClintonGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Lawmakers, pick up the ball on health care and reform Medicaid The art of the small deal MORE who balanced the budget. It was George W. Bush who unbalanced it, put two wars on a credit card, gave a tax cut to the rich, and we had terrible deficits. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight Iran's president warns US will pay 'high cost' if Trump ditches nuclear deal MORE has now reduced this deficit by two-thirds,” Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTrump riles Dems with pick for powerful EPA job Pelosi's chief of staff stepping down Time is now to address infrastructure needs MORE (D-Calif.) recently said on the Senate floor.

The federal deficit last year fell to $483 billion, a six-year low. 

Democrats have objected strongly to language in the GOP proposals that would require a super-majority vote for tax increases, seeing it as an attempt to ensure that tax hikes are nearly impossible to pass.

Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ohio), the GOP’s leading voice on fiscal issues, has strongly supported the tax provision, and voted against the 2011 amendment because it did not include it.

"Spending is the problem, yet this version of the [amendment] makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow, and economic freedom will be diminished," Ryan said at the time. "Without a limit on government spending, I cannot support this amendment."

Since the 1930s, dozens of balanced-budget amendments have been introduced in Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

One proposal came within an inch of reaching the states in 1995, after Republicans swept to power in the midterm elections and sought to fulfill their “Contract With America.”

The House overwhelmingly passed the balanced budget amendment 300-132, only to see it fail by a single vote in the Senate.