There has been noise about a “balanced budget” amendment to the US Constitution for some time now. That certainly sounds like a good idea, and the mere title would result in overwhelming approval. It would force Congress to live on a budget just like any business that is able to survive or any family that does not become destitute…. Or would it?
Old Bill hoped to reduce some of his ignorance regarding the subject by seeking information from Publius Huldah and official government records. PH, by the way, is a lady attorney who addresses constitutional issues using a combination of the pseudonym of the authors of The Federalist Papers and the biblical prophetess Huldah. From the information available through these sources there appears to be a balanced budget charade already “in the hopper”.
Senate Joint Resolution 7, of the 113th Congress, Feb. 13 2013 has already completed the initial legislative requirements and awaits presentation by the Committee on the Judiciary at an opportune moment. There are ten actionable sections. To quote them here and address each possible concern would result in the repetition of a scolding from younger daughter, “Dad, nobody will read that. It’s too long”. Therefore, a synopsis of only the first three sections and brief expressions of opinion will be offered, hopefully enticing any reader to consider resulting ramifications. The inquiring mind will find verification of the content of the resolution and support for the observations offered herein by employing technological skills to search the sources mentioned above.
Sections 1 and 2 say that Congress will not spend more than the total receipts for a year nor shall spending exceed 18 percent of the gross domestic product of the country in a year…. Great!…. BUT… There is another rather operable word that follows each of these good limitations. That word is “unless”. It is here that we see the US Constitution would be amended to compel Congress to balance budgets… “unless” two thirds of the members vote NOT to do so.
At first reading, that two thirds thing seems to be enough of a deterrent to prevent abuse. But let’s suppose, after spending all of the available funds, Congress discovers more is “needed” for some program or to maintain the “full faith and credit” of the country. Now let’s suppose some party or individual Congressman would stand up for the basic intent of the new amendment. It is not beyond speculation that a deluge of castigation would be heaped upon all who are guilty of blocking the way of providing for such needs. They might even be accused of wanting to shut down the government.
Since Congress certainly has the authority to discipline itself now, and the authority to exceed limitations is already exercised, why go to the trouble of making this a part of the Constitution?…. Think about it.
Section 3 requires the President to submit a budget to Congress within the same limitations.
Again, that sounds reasonable. But wait a minute. Such a balanced budget proposal would mean that a description of expenditures and sources of income would be required. If the Constitution is amended to require the President to designate sources of income (taxes), that, in effect, repeals Article I, Section 7, clause 1 of the US Constitution: “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives…”. There were big reasons for the founders’ inclusion of that clause.
In view of these few skeptical thoughts, let us always carefully examine the wording of any proposed amendment and recall the opinion of Alexander Hamilton (Federalist 84) as he advised caution in seeking certain constitutional amendments, “… it would furnish to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power”… Especially if people were never taught that it was wrong.
More about the BB amendment shortly.