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House Roll Call: 858     Vote Date: Nov 18th, 2011

House Roll Call 858 (11-18-11) H.J. Res. 2 Proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Failed in House 261 to 165, 8 not voting (2/3 required).

BBA 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 three-fifths roll-call vote of each chamber, authorizes a specific excess of outlays over receipts.
  • Requires a three-fifths roll-call vote of each chamber to increase the public debt limit.
  • Directs the President to submit a balanced budget to Congress annually.
  • Authorizes waivers of these provisions when a declaration of war is in effect or under other specified circumstances involving military conflict.

Analysis:  As part of the August deal to raise the debt ceiling (the Budget Control Act of 2011), the parties agreed that both houses of Congress would vote later that year on a joint resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment.   The House did so with the above roll call on H.J. Res 2.

No one expected the resolution to garner the two-thirds majority in each chamber necessary for the proposal to be sent to the states for ratification. However, many politicians apparently thought that merely championing such a proposal (several BBA proposals were introduced in the 112th Congress) would impress voters as demonstrating fiscal leadership, even though proponents had to agree to raise the debt ceiling to get the opportunity to bring the BBA to a vote in both chambers.

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

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. We certainly don’t want an amendment that can be used to force a tax increase to balance the budget.

According to the Los Angeles Times (11-18-11):

“Eliminating the annual deficit — now roughly $1.3 trillion — would require such drastic and painful cuts that some conservatives are convinced politicians would instead be inclined to raise taxes. Those advocates and lawmakers pushed Republican leaders to propose an amendment that included a strict spending cap and mandated a larger majority vote before Congress could raise new revenue.”

         The proposals for a Balanced Budget Amendment are actually political copouts.   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.

Only 4 House Republicans voted against H.J. Res. 2.   We give credit to the four, even though one of those — Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee — positioned himself as wanting a stronger amendment (H.J. Res. 1).

We don’t score the Democrats on this roll call, since most of the 161 Democrats who opposed H.J. Res. 2 undoubtedly did so for the wrong reason — they supported deficit spending.

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.)

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?

Some critics of the BBA praised the Constitution, while endorsing its violation. A few days after the vote, Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, wrote:

“The craftsmanship of our forefathers at Philadelphia seems to come under attack every time modern politicians screw up. Rather than accepting responsibility for electing incompetent [it’s not incompetence] leaders, it is easier to blame the Constitution. If we could only come up with a formula by which public policy could be predetermined by constitutional amendments, we would be free to elect whatever scoundrels and incompetents we chose.” [Emphasis added.]

         And Lilly seems to start on target. But before you begin to think constitutionalists have uncovered an ally, recognize that the Center for American Progress is a public policy research and advocacy organization “dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.” [Emphasis added to website quote.]

The Center’s president and chief executive officer is John Podesta, who as chief of staff to Bill Clinton gave his name to “Project Podesta,” Clinton’s strategy for ruling by executive order as he neared the end of his second term.

Moreover, Lilly reveals his true colors as he cites examples in our nation’s history when balancing the budget would have been “terrible fiscal policy.” [Sure, there are times to borrow, but not the kind of borrowing — and monetizing the debt — permitted by the Federal Reserve’s control of our money.] Lilly further concludes: “America needs common sense, not simple-minded formulas, to restore sound fiscal policy.”

Not so. America needs to rid itself of a Conspiracy and force Congress to vote the Constitution. Truly sound fiscal policy does not include spending for unconstitutional programs. The solution to our nation’s economic woes is to get Congress to vote the Constitution! And that work starts back in the districts — building the organization to bypass the Establishment media and create an informed electorate.