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Senate Vote: 229     Vote Date: Dec 14th, 2011

Issue:  S.J. Res. 10 Joint resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment (BBA) to the Constitution of the United States.  Sponsor: Orin Hatch. Question:  On the Joint Resolution (2/3 required). 

Result: Defeated, 47 to 53, 0 not voting.  Republicans scored.

S.J. Res. 10 (Constitutional Amendment) Summary:

  • Prohibits outlays for a fiscal year (except those for repayment of debt principal) from exceeding total receipts for that fiscal year (except those derived from borrowing) unless Congress, by a two-thirds roll call vote of each chamber, authorizes a specific excess of outlays over receipts.
  • Prohibits total outlays for any fiscal year from exceeding 18% of the gross domestic product (GDP) for the preceding calendar year unless Congress, by a two-thirds roll call vote of each chamber, authorizes a specific excess over such 18%.
  • Directs the President to submit a balanced budget to Congress annually.
  • Prohibits any bill from becoming law that imposes a new tax or increases the statutory rate of any tax or the aggregate amount of revenue, unless approved by a two-thirds roll call vote of each chamber.
  • Requires a three-fifths roll call vote of each chamber to increase the federal debt limit.
  • Authorizes waivers of these requirements: (1) when a declaration of war is in effect against a nation-state and Congress, by a majority roll call vote of each chamber, authorizes a specific excess; or (2) under other specified circumstances involving military conflict, if Congress, by a three-fifths roll call vote of each chamber, authorizes such waiver.

Analysis:  As part of the August Budget Control Act of 2011, both houses of Congress agreed to vote on balanced budget amendment (BBA) resolutions before the end of the year. The House did so in November, while the Senate waited until just prior to its holiday recess.

         On December 14th, the Senate voted on two BBA proposals — S. J. Res. 10, introduced by Orin Hatch (R-Utah), and S. J. Res. 24, introduced by Mark Udall (D-Colo.).   S.J. Res. 10 was defeated 47 to 53 on a strictly party line vote (all 47 Republicans voting “yea”). The Udall alternative, S. J. Res. 24, garnered only 21 votes (including 1 GOP).

We will not explore the similarities and differences between the two proposals, as we object to any BBA. We score here the roll call for the Republican proposal.

Admittedly, the idea of amending the Constitution to require a balanced budget is superficially appealing. It’s appeal rides on the natural desire for a quick fix and the understandable public abhorrence of massive federal spending, deficits, and debt, which many voters recognize as the root cause of America’s economic woes.

However, the notion that merely establishing a rule can substitute for informed oversight is pure fantasy.   An ill-informed American public has not insisted that Congress enforce the Constitution we already have.   Another measure to ignore, or worse yet, to misuse is not the answer.

The proposals for a Balanced Budget Amendment are actually political copouts (such as mandating cuts in “future” spending).   The Constitution isn’t broke; it’s merely ignored. A majority of either house of Congress can balance the budget any time it has the political will to do so.

By contrast, it requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to send a proposed amendment to the states for ratification.   The states are frequently allowed up to 10 years for three-quarters of them to ratify the amendment. In the meantime, we have business as usual.

Proposals for amending the Constitution to achieve a balanced budget serve as a dangerous distraction from the real problem — insufficient backbone in Congress to vote the Constitution.

The above proposal requires the president to submit a balanced budget prior to the start of each fiscal year. Instead, why not include wording requiring the president to submit a constitutional budget and a provision requiring the Congress to vote only for constitutional programs?

Silly, isn’t it?   How can we expect a constitutional amendment to enforce compliance by those who regularly refuse to abide by the Constitution’s clear provisions?

Of special concern, experience shows that a blocked BBA aids those forces working to persuade state legislatures to call a constitutional convention.   Unknown to most Americans, in 1983 sponsors of a constitutional convention came within two states of achieving that goal. Such a convention could not be limited to a single topic, but could rewrite our entire Constitution .

The Insiders would love to get their hands on the Constitution in a convention, and they have viewed measures disguised as conservative as providing the only practical route to such an outcome.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)

Federal programs and spending must be cut back to authorized functions.   The implementation of a spending cap based on gross domestic product, as proposed in S.J. 10, would tend to legitimize existing and future unconstitutional programs as long as some political economists tell us we can afford them.

A strict enforcement of the Constitution we already have, not some new arbitrary spending limit that forgives violations, is the key to unleashing American productivity and achieving unprecedented prosperity.