The Spectacle Blog

Balanced Budget Amendment Fails in House

By on 11.18.11 | 1:25PM

The House of Representatives failed to approve a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, 261-165. Only 25 Democrats voted with Republicans to support the amendment. 

Four Republicans voted nay: Paul Ryan, Louie Gohmert (TX), Justin Amash (MI) and David Dreier (CA). All four voted no from the right, with Ryan worrying that, in the Washington Post's words, "the version of the BBA on the floor would have led to larger government." Dreier voted for a BBA in 1995, but has since realized, again in the WaPo's words, that "Congress did not need to amend the Constitution in order to balance the budget."

Dreier is right, which is probably why the vote on the amendment hasn't drawn too much attention or press coverage. 

Update: Here's Ryan's statement

I'm concerned that this version will lead to a much bigger government fueled by more taxes.... Spending is the problem, yet this version of the Balanced Budget Amendment makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow, and economic freedom will be diminished. Without a limit on government spending, I cannot support this Amendment.

And here's a much longer explanation from Amash: 

I appreciate the efforts of leadership and Rep. Bob Goodlatte to improve the version of the balanced budget amendment coming to the House floor. However, I still have serious concerns about how this BBA will function if ratified.

First, its design will cause big spikes and dips in the federal budget, which means it doesn't sufficiently protect against sudden, dramatic tax hikes and doesn't lend itself to long-term policy making. This BBA would not permit multi-year averaging of revenues to smooth out the curve, not even through separate implementing legislation.

Second, it allows a simple majority (of the whole) to authorize unlimited deficit spending whenever the country is in a military conflict. Fortunately, the revised version limits deficit spending to the extent required for the specific military conflict.

Third, the balance requirement takes effect five years after ratification, with no gradual phase-in. The way Congress works, it's unlikely that serious efforts at spending reform will occur until the last minute. With the balance requirement looming, Members of Congress will feel immense pressure simply to raise taxes (massively) to avoid violating the Constitution, or, perhaps more likely, the BBA will be ignored.

Amending the Constitution is a serious matter with monumental implications. I support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, but it's critical that we do this the right way and not just to make a political statement. 

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