Your Weekly Dose of Common Sense

David Hancock


What Happened to the 2011 Balanced Budget Amendment?

Remember the epic Balanced Budget Amendment that was to be voted on before the end of the year? The one that the "tea party hobbits" wanted?

On November 18th, just after the national debt crossed the $15,000,000,000,000 mark, a roll call vote failed to get the required 2/3 majority in the House. Unless you were paying very close attention it probably escaped your notice. For some reason Republicans didn't want to make a big deal out of it, and the media didn't find it interesting enough to put in the spotlight. Maybe everyone knew it was just Washington going through the motions. Republicans had used the promise of a balanced budget amendment as their cover for increasing the debt limit earlier, and now nobody really cared whether it passed or not. After all, we were told, it would have died in the Senate.

The Balanced Budget Amendment was rotten anyway

There were a few good points, but if you are going to amend the Constitution you need to do it right and not just settle. The amendment required the President to submit a balanced budget, and it did allow an exemption if we were at war. But, if 2/3 of Congress approved, the amendment allowed the budget to be balanced with a tax hike. Simply let Democrats, or big government Republicans, get a majority and that hurtle would barely be a speed bump.

(Read the text of the actual amendment below)

Republicans who voted to raise the debt limit earlier certainly felt they had to vote for the amendment as cover, whether they liked it or not. To their credit, a handful of true conservatives voted against the resolution, including two of my favorites - Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. Their main complaint was that it allowed the budget to be balanced by raising taxes. Representative Gohmert said that given the choice he would rather have a cap on spending. Paul Ryan had pushed for a tougher version of the amendment that would have also set tight caps on annual spending. Maybe in 2012 we can elect Representatives who will follow their lead and we can get something that conservatives can be proud of.

Text of Balanced Budget Amendment - ROLL CALL 858 (H.J. Res. 2)

`Section 1. Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific excess of outlays over receipts by a rollcall vote.

`Section 2. The limit on the debt of the United States held by the public shall not be increased, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House shall provide by law for such an increase by a rollcall vote.

`Section 3. Prior to each fiscal year, the President shall transmit to the Congress a proposed budget for the United States Government for that fiscal year in which total outlays do not exceed total receipts.

`Section 4. No bill to increase revenue shall become law unless approved by a majority of the whole number of each House by a rollcall vote.

`Section 5. The Congress may waive the provisions of this article for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect. The provisions of this article may be waived for any fiscal year in which the United States is engaged in military conflict which causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security and is so declared by a joint resolution, adopted by a majority of the whole number of each House, which becomes law.

`Section 6. The Congress shall enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation, which may rely on estimates of outlays and receipts.

`Section 7. Total receipts shall include all receipts of the United States Government except those derived from borrowing. Total outlays shall include all outlays of the United States Government except for those for repayment of debt principal.

`Section 8. This article shall take effect beginning with the later of the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification or the first fiscal year beginning after December 31, 2016.'.