Congress is currently considering three balanced budget amendments (BBAs) that would fundamentally reshape the federal government’s role in the economy, deeply constraining its ability to combat poverty during economic recession and put Americans back to work, provide assistance during natural disasters, and invest in infrastructure to ensure prosperity for the future. This week, the House of Representatives will likely vote on one version of the BBA, H. J. Res. 1, and two other versions—S. J. Res. 4 and S. J. Res. 10—could also receive votes in the coming weeks.
In their simplest form, BBAs require the federal government to spend no more money than it collects in revenue. While this is a worthwhile goal, a BBA would prevent the federal government from wielding its unrivaled creditworthiness to spend and repay huge sums of money to provide security to families in need and invest money in the future so that the economy can continue to grow.
All three of the BBAs being considered, however, contain additional provisions that make the amendments even more threatening. Each would cap federal spending as a percentage of GDP. The most restrictive cap, included in H. J. Res. 1, would limit spending to 16.7 percent of GDP—a level of spending lower than at any time since 1956, before Medicare or Medicaid (two of the greatest areas of spending for the federal government) even existed.
Another provision of two of the three proposed BBAs (H. J. Res. 1 and S. J. Res. 10) would require supermajority support for any action that results in an increase in government revenue. Such a rule would make it extraordinarily hard if not impossible for the government to meet its responsibilities to the public and ensure national well being and security.
Constitutionally enforced spending caps and supermajority requirements for revenue increases are ideological attempts to shrink the size of government under the guise of fiscal restraint. Starving the federal government of revenue and artificially limiting the amount of money the government can spend would mean the destruction of programs that serve the disadvantage and result in more poverty, more joblessness, and less prosperity.
Deuteronomy teaches, “If there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient” (15:7-8). A balanced budget amendment in any form will deeply constrain the ability of the federal government to respond to the needs of the disadvantaged among us.
A Constitutional amendment requires the support of two-thirds of the House and the Senate, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Call your Senators and Representative and ask them to oppose H. J. Res. 1 when it comes to a vote and to oppose all other versions of the balanced budget amendment should they come to a vote, including S. J. Res. 4 and S. J. Res. 10. The Capitol switchboard can be reached at 202.224.3121.
For more information, please contact Legislative Assistant Jonathan Backer at 202.387.2800.