House GOP Expected to Unveil Balanced Budget Amendment

Posted November 9, 2011 at 1:17pm

House Republicans this week are expected to announce they will move forward with a “clean” version of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

Although no formal decision has been made, several GOP aides said Wednesday that the amendment will likely not include key revenue language demanded by conservatives that would essentially eliminate the possibility of future tax increases because of stiff opposition from Democrats and the Senate.

However, at least one GOP source said the amendment still could include some sort of language on taxes and spending, which, while not as strong as conservatives’ preferred approach, could still give the amendment some teeth.

Leadership aides declined to comment on which version they will pursue. But one staffer did say that passage of an amendment out of the House and Senate is particularly attractive because of its effect on the proceedings of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.

Passing a balanced budget amendment out of both chambers “helps us with the super committee since we get a [higher] number,” the aide said.

If a balanced budget amendment is passed through both chambers, it would trigger a provision in the summer’s debt deal allowing the president to request
$1.5 trillion in debt ceiling increases rather than $1.2 trillion.

According to GOP aides familiar with the situation, Republicans had hoped to move forward with a BBA that required the budget to be balanced using spending cuts while requiring a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers to increase taxes.

But that amendment is essentially dead on arrival. While a number of House and Senate Democrats — including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who voted for a BBA in the 1990s — are on record supporting the idea of an amendment, they have largely remained united in opposition to the GOP plan.

That opposition would doom the amendment in both chambers, since a supermajority vote is required in both chambers to amend the Constitution.

According to one source following a closed-door Conference meeting last week, it became clear to leadership that the majority of Republicans would rather have a clean amendment, which could garner enough Democratic support to pass the House.

“Overwhelmingly, a massive number of them want the historic one. Because frankly, it has a lot better chance of passing,” explained one aide familiar with the meeting.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Va.), who is the sponsor of the current GOP amendment, is expected to announce the decision this week. A spokeswoman for Goodlatte did not return a request for comment.

While a clean version of the BBA has its tactical advantages, the decision is likely to anger conservatives, including Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist.

ATR sent a letter Wednesday signed by 31 conservative organizations to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) demanding he stick to the stronger BBA.

“Unless tax hikes are taken off the table, reckless lawmakers will increase taxes to pay for these new bloated spending levels, rather than bring spending in line with revenues. A ‘clean’ BBA provides the excuse big spenders seek to raise taxes and grow government,” the groups said in the letter.

“Any lawmaker committed to restoring American solvency cannot seriously vote for a BBA that does not include a super-majority requirement for tax increases,” the letter added.

Correction: Nov. 9, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated why leadership aides want the balanced budget amendment to pass. If passed, the president would be able to ask for a debt ceiling increase of $1.5 trillion, a higher debt-cutting target.