Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) announced Thursday afternoon that all 47 Republican Senators have co-sponsored a “consensus Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” HUMAN EVENTS learned exclusively. This year’s budget deficit is projected to be $1.6 trillion, and the national debt is currently $14.1 trillion.
The key provisions of the new balanced budget amendment (BBA) are: Congress must pass a balanced budget; the President has to submit a balanced budget; spending is capped at 18% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); “supermajority” vote (two-thirds of House and Senate) to raise taxes; and “new supermajority” vote (three-fifths of House and Senate) to raise the debt ceiling.
“We’ve been fighting to cut spending in the near-term and that’s why we’ll soon be proposing a balanced budget amendment. American families have to balance their budgets. So should their elected representatives in Washington. It’s not too much to expect that lawmakers spend no more than they take in,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday morning.
Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, amendments require passage by two-thirds of the House and the Senate and ratification by three-quarters (38) of the states. The House passed a BBA in 1995. In 1997, a Senate BBA failed to pass by only one vote. The 1997 BBA was supported by 11 Democrats, four of whom are still in the Senate: Max Baucus (Mont.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Herb Kohl (Wisc.), and Mary Landrieu (La.).
Senate Republicans have been divided for months between two different versions of the BBA, one co-sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and John Cornyn (Texas) and the other co-sponsored by Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Mike Lee (Utah). There were 33 Republicans who supported the Hatch-Cornyn amendment, and 17 supported an amendment by Lee and Kyl. Other Senators had specific concerns about provisions in both versions of the BBA.
Two weeks ago, Senators Hatch, Cornyn, Lee, Kyl, and Pat Toomey (Penn.) announced a press conference to unveil their versions of the BBA. McConnell told them to call off the press conference until they had a united Republican conference in support of one final piece of legislation.
Then, McConnell asked the principals in the BBA debate to go back and negotiate a unified version that took into account all the requests from members of the caucus. The final version which they are announced on Thursday is co-sponsored by every Senate Republican.
The specific provisions of the consensus Senate BBA were obtained exclusively by HUMAN EVENTS. They are as follows:
1) Presidential Requirement to Submit a Balanced Budget: Prior to each fiscal year, the President must transmit to Congress a balanced budget that limits outlays to 18 percent of GDP.
2) Requirement to Pass a Balanced Budget: With the following limited exceptions, Congress must pass a balanced budget.
* Requires 2/3 of both Houses for a specific deficit for a fiscal year.
* Requires a majority of Congress for a specific deficit for a fiscal year during a declared war.
* Requires 3/5 of Congress for a specific deficit for a fiscal year during a military conflict declared to be “an imminent and serious military threat to national security” and the deficit must be limited to “outlays…made necessary by the identified conflict.”
3) 18 Percent Spending Cap: With the following limited exceptions, Congress must limit outlays to 18 percent of GDP.
* Requires 2/3 of both Houses for a specific excess above 18 percent for a fiscal year.
* Requires a majority of Congress for a specific excess above 18 percent for a fiscal year during a declared war.
* Requires 3/5 of Congress for a specific excess above 18 percent for a fiscal year during a military conflict declared to be “an imminent and serious military threat to national security” and the excess be limited to “outlays…made necessary by the identified conflict.”
4) Supermajority for Tax Increases: Establishes a new supermajority requirement for net tax and rate increases.
* Requires 2/3 of both Houses for any bill “that imposes a new tax or increases the statutory rate of any tax or the aggregate amount of revenue.”
* Excludes increases in revenue resulting from tax cuts.
5) Supermajority to Raise the Debt Limit: Establishes a new supermajority requirement for an increase in the debt limit.
* Requires 3/5 of both Houses to increase the debt limit.
* Requires a majority of Congress for a fiscal year during a declared war.
6) Congressional Enforcement and Use of Estimates: Provides for congressional enforcement and the use of estimates.
7) Limits on Courts: Prohibits courts from ordering revenue increases to enforce.
8) Effective Date: Becomes effective the fifth fiscal year after ratification.
The Republicans need 20 Democrats to reach the 67 vote threshold for passage. But, McConnell said Thursday morning on the Senate floor that, “Democrats are already lining up against it.” The Senate voted on a non-binding amendment for a BBA, sponsored by Lee that got a vote of 58-40, picking up 11 Democrat votes. If that test vote would be an accurate measure for vote counting, then only nine more Democrats are needed to pass a BBA this year.
Outside the U.S. Captiol on Thursday, members of the Tea Party protested against excessive government spending by Congress. Leader McConnell went to the Senate floor to defend against attacks on the Tea Party this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-N.V.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.).
“At a time when the national debt has reached crisis levels, members of the Tea Party are asking that we stop spending more than we take in. In other words, they’re asking that lawmakers in Washington do what any household in America already does: they want us to balance our budget,” said McConnell. “And they do this because they know their history, and that the road to decline is paved with debt.”
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