Is a Balanced Budget Amendment All We Need to Fix the Debt?
Many candidates will suggest some form of a balanced budget amendment (BBA). Even in the best case, such an amendment is a supplement rather than a replacement for the tough choices necessary to fix the debt – and not one which is likely to be put in place.
Passing a BBA would require a mammoth effort. An amendment to the Constitution can only be put in place with two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress as well as ratification from 38 of the 50 states, or a separate convention called by two-thirds of states and ratified by 38 of them. These processes, even if politically popular, would likely take a significant amount of time. Importantly, the President has no formal role in this process.
But even if a constitutional BBA did pass, it would not replace the need to identify tax and spending changes in order to eliminate deficits. Lawmakers would still be confronted with the same choices as they are today, and would still have to identify hundreds of billions of dollars of deficit reduction per year, and there is a danger that focusing on the process of amending the Constitution would take away the attention from what policies should actually be put in place to balance the budget.
In other words, support for a balanced budget amendment is not a substitute for concrete ideas to reduce deficits.