Balanced Budget Amendment Coming up For a Vote in Congress

Part of the deal made earlier this year to increase the Federal debt-ceiling included taking votes in both the House and the Senate by December 31 on a balanced budget Constitutional amendment. The House is expected to take its vote by tomorrow. The main provisions of the the version of the amendment expected to be considered are…

  1. A requirement that the President submit an annual balanced budget to Congress.
  2. A 3/5 vote requirement, to spend more in outlays than is taken in and receipts in any given year (with borrowed money not counted as “receipts”, nor repayment of debt principal counted as an outlay).
  3. A 3/5 vote requirement, to raise the debt ceiling.
  4. A requirement that any bill to raise revenue be approved by a rollcall vote.
The complete text of this year’s amendment is below the fold.
Rhode Island residents may be particularly interested in the differences, which are not major, between the current proposal and the balanced budget amendment that Senator Claiborne Pell voted in favor of in 1986
  1. In the current version, votes to raise the debt ceiling or to deficit spend in a given year must be by roll-call.
  2. The exemption of borrowed money and repayment of debt principal from receipts and outlays wasn’t in the 1986 version.
  3. The 1986 version expressly allowed the President to submit an alternate budget where outlays exceeded receipts, in addition the balanced budget.
  4. The 1986 version allowed balanced-budget requirements to be waived “for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect”. The current version extends that to any year where the U.S. is “engaged in military conflict”.
I’d prefer the narrower 1986 language limiting the waiver specifically to a declaration of war, and the alternate budget provision was a reasonable idea, but none of the changes make the current version of the bill unworkable, and its spirit remains the same: look at what it would take to balance the budget each year; do not assume borrowing to cover debts is automatic; make sure that votes on decisions to raise taxes, to borrow money, and to spend more than can be collected are recorded, so that the citizens have the information they need to hold Senators and Congressman accountable for their actions.
Despite the fact that this is a very mild version of a Constitutional-level budget balancing process, prepare to hear arguments from the fiscally-insane wing of the Democratic party that boil down to the idea that the Federal government cannot possibly function if the President uses a part of the Federal bureaucracy at his or her disposal to consider how to balance the budget, and that it’s unreasonable to require a 3/5 vote of Congress when the government wants to spend more than it takes in.

Text of H.J. Res. 2, the balanced budget Constitutional amendment expected to be voted on, on or around November 18, 2011:

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.

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10 years ago

Bad bill – but a starting point – the “military conflict” is a huge hole. In this new world of “War on Terror” any jerk with know how to blow up any American interest will allow both side of the ailse depending on who is in power to submit an unbalanced budget. Neither party has been prudent in managing our money over the last 40 years. Bad bill but a starting point – not sure if it will get anywhere.

10 years ago

Andrew –
Thanks for the follow up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m for the Amendment. My point is a majority vote for a joint resolution is a low threshold when we will be fighting some form of terrorism for quite some time going forward. This allows both parties to continue to spend on their own priorities/constituencies (and they both spend just on different items) and then come together for this joint resolution.

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