House to Take Up Balanced Budget Amendment Upon Return

WASHINGTON (CN)  – The U.S. House of Representatives will hold a vote on a balanced budget amendment when it returns from recess next week, though critics and proponents alike acknowledge the measure is highly likely to fail.

The constitutional amendment, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would prevent Congress from spending more money than the federal government brings in. Goodlatte’s amendment would also require a supermajority vote in the House and the Senate to raise the debt limit.

The amendment has little chance of clearing Congress, much less receiving the necessary support among state legislature to become part of the Constitution, but Goodlatte nevertheless praised House leadership for allowing the vote.

“A balanced budget amendment has been one of the highest priorities of my tenure in Congress,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “A constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget would finally bring discipline to federal spending and would benefit generations to come.”

Congress came close to approving a balanced budget amendment during the Reagan administration, with the provision clearing the Senate before failing in the House. The idea has come up in Congress several times since then, receiving a two-thirds majority in the House in 1995 before narrowly falling in the Senate.

Conservatives who support the balanced budget amendment say it is necessary to restrain runaway government spending. Proponents of the plan, such as Goodlatte, argue the amendment would force lawmakers to choose carefully when authorizing spending.

Karla Jones, director of the Federalism and International Relations Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, acknowledged Goodlatte’s measure is unlikely to become law, but said a balanced budget amendment  could put valuable fiscal constraints on Congress.

“The problem that most proponents of a BBA would like to solve is the national debt, which is now over $21 trillion,” Jones said. “So they see a balanced budget as the only way that that can be achieved given the fact that Congress seems unwilling to put spending limits on itself.”

But because of lawmakers’ spending habits, Jones believes the most likely way for a balanced budget amendment to become part of the Constitution is not by clearing Congress and earning ratification at the state level, but through a constitutional convention.

Opponents of the policy say a balanced budget amendment would restrain Congress too much, preventing the federal government from adjusting spending as needed to suit the economy.

Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former director of budget policy at the House Budget Committee, wrote a report last month raising concerns that the amendment could force Congress to take steps during recessions that would damage the economy even more.

“It requires that federal programs be cut or taxes increased to offset the automatic stabilizers and prevent a deficit from occurring – pulling money out of the economy at exactly the wrong time, the opposite course from sound economic policy,” Kogan wrote.

In an interview Friday, Kogan also expressed concerns about what would happen if Congress passed laws that did not comply with a hypothetical balanced budget amendment, wondering what courts could do to correct such violations.

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