The New York Times has an article today about how some Republicans in Congress, following the conflict with congressional Democrats and the President over raising the debt ceiling, are now pushing hard for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Such an amendment would, at its most basic level, state that the federal government cannot spend more than the amount it takes in. The amendment would require approval from two-thirds of each congressional chamber and three-fourths of the state legislatures to become part of the Constitution.
In the alternative, two-thirds of the states could call for a convention for proposing amendments, and three-fourths of the states could ratify any amendments issuing from that convention. This method of proposing amendments would have the ultimate effect of bypassing Congress, but it has never been used since the ratification of the Constitution.
A balanced budget amendment passed the House of Representatives in 1995, but it failed in the Senate by one vote.
Two versions of the balanced budget amendment have gained some traction in Congress: one mandating that outlays not exceed total receipts for each fiscal year, except interest payments, unless Congress allows this by a three-fifths vote in each chamber; and the other requiring a two-thirds majority in each chamber to raise taxes and to raise spending above 18% of the country's gross domestic product.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia wrote in an op-ed, "House and Senate passage of the balanced budget amendment will make reckless borrowing a thing of the past and will ensure that our childrene enjoy futures full of opportunity." Opponents, however, state that requiring a balanced budget may weaken the government's power in times of crisis and that now, just after U.S. default was narrowly averted, is not good timing for consideration of such a measure.