Balanced Budget Amendment Would Be Tall Order

By: - August 5, 2011 12:00 am

The New York Times and Politico both report today (August 5) on growing calls by Republicans for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. GOP congressional leaders are energized after winning major concessions from Democrats in the recently approved debt-ceiling deal, and many state officials also are calling for a constitutional overhaul of federal spending practices.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said on Thursday that only a balanced-budget amendment would have the “brute force,” as Politico puts it , to get the federal budget under control. Speaking before an audience at the Republican National Committee, Jindal blasted the debt-ceiling deal as a “compromise” that doesn’t go far enough toward reining in federal debt.

“If you want to be popular with the editorial boards, nothing will make you as popular with the intelligentsia in America as ‘compromise,'” Jindal said. “I have found in government that it pays to be stubborn. It pays to stick to your guns.”

But while there may be growing GOP calls for a balanced budget amendment, difficult political realities face the proposal not only on Capitol Hill where Democrats control the Senate and are unlikely to support such a measure but in the states, where 38 legislatures would need to approve.

Republicans swept into power in many statehouses last November, but they still control both legislative chambers in only half the states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures . So unless the Democratic Party nationally embraces the idea of a balanced-budget amendment, the plan’s chances of success are slim at best.  A balanced-budget amendment passed the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives in 1995 but fell a single vote short in the Republican Senate, as The New York Times notes .

While the political will for a federal constitutional amendment may not exist in both houses of Congress and 38 states, the concept of balanced budgets is nothing new for state legislatures themselves. All but one state, Vermont, have legal provisions calling for spending to match revenues, though there is considerable variation in the strength of those provisions.

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