CHN: A Shift in Balanced Budget Amendment Strategy

One day after announcing a vote on an extreme constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget (BBA) on July 20, the House leadership switched gears to postpone that vote indefinitely.  Instead, the House will take up legislation sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) that combines immediate spending cuts and caps and an increase in the debt ceiling, but makes but makes the debt ceiling increase contingent on passing a balanced budget amendment and sending it to the states for ratification.  The legislation is said to be similar to the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011 (S. 1340), sponsored by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), which, like the balanced budget amendment now withdrawn, would require an extreme spending cap of 18 percent of GDP.  That cap is so restrictive it would require cutting Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and SNAP/food stamps in half over ten years, and force 70 percent cuts in domestic appropriations.
It appears that the House Republicans, recognizing that they do not have the two-thirds majority needed to pass the constitutional amendment they planned to put to a vote on July 20, instead will use the time to show unity with the most conservative Republican caucus members, who have circulated a “Cut, Cap, and Balance” pledge.

With so little time left to agree upon a means of increasing the debt limit (see Closer to the Brink in Order to Save Tax Cuts for the Rich in this issue), linking the increase to a constitutional amendment to balance the budget does not seem like a stance most likely to get the job done.  It would however allow House members to go on record in support of extreme reductions in federal spending.

For more information about the balanced budget amendment that has been pulled from floor action (H.J. Res 1) see the June 17Human Needs Report.

Companion BBA legislation in the Senate (S.J. Res 23) sponsored by Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) is co-sponsored by every Republican Senator and no Democratic Senators.  It may be taken up in the Senate during the week of July 18.  Constitutional amendments would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate in order to be forwarded to the states for ratification.  In the past, balanced budget amendments have passed the House and come within one vote of passing the Senate, in part because the vote is seen as a symbolic way of demonstrating support for fiscal restraint.  With votes so close in 1990s, human needs advocates do not see the BBA vote as symbolic.  Nearly 250 national organizations sent a letter opposing the BBA on July 13; hundreds of additional state and local group signers are being collected, and their names will also be distributed to Congress.

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