Balanced Budget Amendment Caucus Launches

Today a new bipartisan caucus was announced to support passage of H.J. Res.1, a balanced budget constitutional amendment. The co-chairs are Representatives Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Jim Marshall (D-GA) and founding members are Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Mike McIntyre (D-NC).

H.J. Res. 1 directs the President to submit a balanced budget to Congress annually. It also prohibits annual outlays (except for repayment of debt principal) from exceeding receipts (except those derived from borrowing); a three-fifths vote of each chamber would be required to waive the requirement for a specific expenditure. A three-fifths vote would also be required to increase the public debt limit. Any bill increasing revenue would require a majority roll call vote in each chamber for approval. Waivers would be allowed in times of war or other circumstances involving military conflict. The bill currently has 175 co-sponsors in the House.

If ratified, the amendment would take effect the later of the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification or fiscal year 2016. The preliminary CBO analysis of the President’s FY 2011 budget estimates an $894 billion deficit that year, which is the gap that would have to be erased in order to balance the budget. That would force the kind of difficult decisions that Washington has been unwilling to make.

At a press conference launching the caucus its leaders stressed the need to address rising budget deficits in a bipartisan manner. Goodlatte stated that the “public is focused on this issue above all others” and that it is the top issue expressed by his constituents. The members displayed a chart with recent figures from the CBO on the rising debt-to-GDP ratio in the President’s FY 2011 budget to make their case for addressing the debt.

Coffman said that the amendment would “force us to make the tough decisions” regarding budget priorities, such debate over priorities is currently lacking in Congress according to the Congressman. Marshall used the example of the current health care bill, arguing that if lawmakers were compelled to focus on the cost issue in health care, they would be more motivated to find solutions.

There was also much talk of how running up debt will adversely affect future generations. Goodlatte said that inaction on tackling the debt is “kicking the can down the road – kicking it towards our grandchildren.” Marshall added that this generation has a moral obligation to future generations to act.

All expressed optimism that the significant hurdles to enacting a constitutional amendment could be overcome. They noted that similar amendments received the required 2/3 majority in the House in 1995 and 1997 while falling just one vote short of that threshold both times in the Senate. Marshall expressed optimism that the required 3/4 of states would ratify it “within a year.” All but one state has a balanced budget requirement for state budgets.

The Blue Dog coalition also recently unveiled a balanced budget amendment. CRFB welcomes the focus on the need for budget discipline and addressing mounting deficits and debt. These proposals move the debate towards getting specific about stabilizing the debt and developing a credible fiscal plan, which needs to happen now. As Coffman said today, we risk a financial meltdown if we don’t act.