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  • Politicians Forget Why We Need A Strong Balanced Budget Amendment

    The purpose of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution (BBA) is to limit the size and scope of the federal government.  Some politicians seem to have forgotten that goal.

    According to USA Today there are 18 pending proposed amendments to the Constitution that purport to be balanced budget constitutional mandates.  The House will be voting in two weeks on a “Joint resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States” and they have yet to settle on specific language.

    “The overwhelming majority of the members of the Republican conference want to vote on a balanced-budget amendment that has a chance of passing,” says Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who has been leading the effort in the House. That means an amendment without some of the provisions — such as hard limits on federal spending or roadblocks to raising taxes — added on to some proposals, he says.

    Rep. Goodlatte seems conflicted, because he has introduced two differing versions of a BBA.  One that has a two-thirds vote to raise taxes and a spending cap at 18% of the economy (H.J. Res. 1) and another version that has stripped those requirements.  The second version is a weak BBA and a version that may lead to massive tax increases while locking in the current spending of the federal government

    Voting on a weak BBA may do more harm than good to the cause.

    First of all, voting on a weak version of a BBA may undercut the long term fight to pass a strong version of a BBA.  There is no realistic possibility of any version of a BBA passing the House and Senate by a 2/3rds vote and being sent to the states for ratification.  Passing a weakened version of the BBA without capping the size of government nor prohibiting tax increases would be an example of House Republicans negotiating against themselves.

    Conservatives may have a good reason to oppose the weakened version of a BBA.  If a BBA allows revenues to creep up to current levels of spending, then the weakened version of a BBA will, in effect, grease the skids for massive tax hikes on all Americans to balance the budget at President Obama bloated levels of spending.

    Curtis Dubay of The Heritage Foundation wrote on March 21, 2011 current spending is at a pace at about 23% of the economy.

    Historically, federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) has averaged around 20 percent. Obama’s budget averages almost 23 percent from 2012 through 2021.  Federal tax revenues have averaged about 18 percent of GDP. Although below that mark currently because of the recession, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), federal tax receipts will be above that historical threshold by 2018 if all current tax policies are left in place—including making all 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent. If spending were kept to 20 percent of GDP, the deficit would fall below its historical average after 2018 and the national debt would stabilize.

    If a weak BBA is passed, politicians or federal judges may use the BBA to claim that they are constitutionally mandated to raise taxes to balance the budget.  There is no language in the weak BBA to prevent federal judges from imposing court ordered tax increases to balance the budget and there is no protection from politicians using tax increases as the means to bring revenues up to high spending levels.

    Conservatives, and every single Republican Senator, have rallied to support the identical BBAs sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) as S.J. Res 10 and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as S.J. Res 23.  These are modified version of Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) version introduced in February as S.J. Res. 5.  All of these BBAs contains strong language that restricts the size and scope of the federal government.

    As I wrote in a Heritage Foundation backgrounder, The House and Senate Balanced Budget Amendments: Not All Balanced Budget Amendments Are Created Equal, dated July 14, 2011 both the House and Senate had settled on language that would make it hard for politicians to raise taxes as a means to balance the budget:

    The House and Senate BBAs are designed to make it difficult for Congress to use tax increases as a means to balance the budget. Once amended, the Constitution would contain a provision that would force a supermajority in both chambers to raise taxes on the American people in order to balance the budget, with certain exemptions in one version.

    Also, House and Senate versions contain a spending cap on the growth of government at 18% of the output of the economy.  Capping spending by the President and Congress to a specific percentage of economic output would cap the growth of government.  Crafting appropriate language may be difficult, but a spending limit in the constitution seems like the only means to make sure that the federal government does not consume a greater and greater percentage of the economy as the years march on.

    The House and Senate versions differ on the constitutional requirements for the content of the President’s budget. Section 3 of the Senate version provides that two conditions must be met by the President’s submission to Congress. First, “total outlays do not exceed total receipts.” This provision is identical to the condition in Section 4 of the House version. Second, the Senate version adds a condition not included in the House version that “outlays do not exceed 18 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States for the calendar year ending before the beginning of such fiscal year.” The Senate version references “gross domestic product,” but the House version is silent on GDP.

    Both the tax cap language and spending limit language may need to be tweaked, yet they should not be tossed aside to get a few more votes in the House and Senate.  The bottom line is that it seems to be a strategic mistake for Congress to take votes on weakened versions of a BBA in order to get a few more votes.  Members know that even a weakened version of a BBA has little chance of passing; therefore it makes no sense for conservatives to negotiate against themselves on the language to be inserted into the Constitution for the purposes of limiting the size and scope of the federal government.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to Politicians Forget Why We Need A Strong Balanced Budget Amendment

    1. Lloyd Scallan says:

      The author is missing the point. Politicians, on both side of the isle, know full well their's not a chance in hell a BBA will ever pass Congress. Does anyone believe either Dems or Repbs would allow any law or amendment to stand in the way of their out of control spending for their pet projects (pork)? American are not only being screwed by the Dems that control the White House and the Senate, but the old, established Repbs that have infested Washington for decades. If we want to save America as we know it, we must install a true conservative political party that will give the people a real chance.

    2. Robert, TX says:

      The republicans favor a BBA with an 18% cap on "federal spending" as a % of GDP. Which means they will ram even more liberal programs down the states' throats, even worse than NCLB. By the end of 2008, our combined government (federal, state and local) was spending 43% of GDP!!! Compare that to 24% in 1950 and 29% in 1960. Our Constitution is completely irrelevant at ANY level above 30%. The republicans are NOT the party of "small government." They are just as big a part of the problem as the democrats – which is why Pat Buchanan said they are merely the different wings of the same bird (a vulture). We need to "kill" the bird by FIRING CONGRESS.

    3. jimegan says:

      I have serious concerns with any of the proposed Balanced Budget Amendments. First, they assume that the American electorate is incapable of electing fiscally responsible representatives. Second, the proposed caps would tend to "lock in" spending at much higher levels than would be required if federal spending were limited to that which is Constitutionally permitted. Thirdly, they all have "escape" clauses for "emergency" contingencies. Who decides what constitutes and emergency? The very politicians that the amendment is intended to constrain.
      I don't favor cluttering up our Constitution with amendments that address problems of contemporary nature. We have already done that several times, and almost all of those have proven to be a disaster.
      What we need is to elect fiscally responsible representatives and to gradually do away with the plethora of unconstitutional social programs and administrative agencies and limit the federal government to the enumerated powers in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

      • BJSalty says:

        I also have serious concerns about ANY balanced budget amendment. What makes voters believe that Congress would abide by a balanced budget. They have trampled our Constitution for 3 or 4 generations, or more. If Congresspersons would follow the oath they each took to Defend the Constitution, and understand what the Constitution says, we would not be in this predicament. I must admit that I take some of the blame for allowing Congress to put us in this situation…I, like many voters, elected the representatives and senators and then turned them loose, and never checked on what was happening. I just pray it is not too late to save our country.
        I fully agree with jimegan!

      • ShareTheConstitution says:

        Jim Egan, you are absolutely right on this!! I have been warning about the consequences of a BBA as they have been written – giving powers to the executive branch reserved for the legislative, etc. I talk about this problem at http://www.twitter.com/ShareLiberty & http://www.facebook.com/ShareTheConstitution.com. The real answer is like Robert above suggests: FIRING CONGRESS. I have set up a website to educate the masses about the founding principles of the USA where you can share the US Constitution & founding documents with friends, students, politicians, etc. via social media & email. The answer is in the education of the Public of their rights. Empower each other to elect Constitution-abiding representatives. I am not part of any group and do not have funding. I am interested in individual liberty and the rule of law (not men).

        See the issues with the BBA spelled out here: http://publiushuldah.wordpress.com/category/balan….

        Aloha Friday!

    4. Bobbie says:

      They conveniently forget who they work for. Not tolerable. Get the trap setters out and accountable! Enough stealing from tax payers used to abuse tax payers!

      Don't understand the purpose and reason to carry out the responsibility and discipline of a balanced budget? You don't qualify for the job. America doesn't deserve your work of insubordination.

    5. ShareTheConstitution says:

      Jim, for you, Article 1, Section 8, US Constitution http://ShareTheConstitution.appspot.com/content/1

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