Many groups have been lobbying the U.S. Congress to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment. In fact, a proposed amendment was rejected by the House of Representatives on November 18, 2011. However, an amendment requiring a balanced budget will not prevent deficit spending and/or an increase in the federal debt.
The rejected Balanced Budget Amendment has loopholes wide enough to drive a truck through.
Loophole #1 “Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific excess of outlays over receipts by a rollcall vote.” This means that as long as 261 Representatives and 60 Senators agree to the budget, it doesn’t need to be balanced.
Loophole #2 “The limit on the debt of the United States held by the public shall not be increased, unless three-fifths of the whole number of each House shall provide by law for such an increase by a rollcall vote.” Again, 261 Representatives and 60 Senators can vote to raise the debt-ceiling.
Loophole #3 “The Congress may waive the provisions of this article for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect…. [or] any fiscal year in which the United States is engaged in military conflict which causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security and is so declared by a joint resolution, adopted by a majority of the whole number of each House, which becomes law.” Well, if that’s not the ultimate “we don’t have to balance the budget”clause, I don’t know what is. As long as the U.S. military is waging some form of military conflict and the Congress passes a joint resolution deeming such action to be in response to (or to prevent) “an imminent and serious military threat to national security” then Congress doesn’t need to balance the federal budget. It’s bad enough that American foreign policy costs tax-payers nearly $1 trillion per year, however more military spending will make sure the federal budget never needs to be balanced.
The proposed Balanced Budget Amendment also falls short, in that it allows for increased taxation and does not limit the federal government from borrowing or printing money to cover budget shortfalls, it only says “Total receipts shall include all receipts of the United States Government except those derived from borrowing.”
And the icing on the cake is that the amendment (if approved) would not go into affect until the “the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification or the first fiscal year beginning after December 31, 2016” whichever is later. With all of the loopholes, it doesn’t matter when the amendment takes affect, the Congress can simply override the requirement to balance the budget.
If the Congress would simply abide by the limits placed on it by the U.S. Constitution, there would be no need for symbolic votes on toothless amendments.