The House will vote next week on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) office announced Thursday.
The measure, H.J.Res. 2, was introduced by Goodlatte in January and has garnered 242 co-sponsors, including a handful of Democrats.
In the summer’s debt-ceiling fight, Republicans won a provision calling for both chambers to vote on a balanced budget amendment by Dec. 31. The debt-ceiling legislation does not require congressional approval of any balanced budget amendment, but Republicans contend that holding a vote on the measure represents a key step toward eventual passage of an agenda item that has become a rallying point for conservatives.
Not all balanced budget amendments are created equal, however. House Republicans noted on Thursday that over a series of listening sessions that culminated in a special conference meeting and a member survey last week, lawmakers debated which version of a BBA to bring to the floor.
Among the versions considered were measures introduced by Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) as well as the Goodlatte measure, which is identical to the version of a balanced budget amendment that passed the House in 1995 with bipartisan support.
An “overwhelming number” of House Republicans last week ultimately settled on the Goodlatte version because they believe it “has the best chance of passing,” the Virginia Republican’s office said Thursday.
There are two ways that a Constitutional amendment may be enacted: It must either be approved by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures; or it must be proposed by a convention of two-thirds of the state legislatures and then ratified by three-quarters of them.
Both paths represent a tall task and a long process. In the House, the balanced budget amendment would need the votes of 290 of 435 members to proceed; in the Senate, it would need the support of 67 of the 100 senators.
Many Democrats in this Congress have balked at previous balanced budget amendment proposals put forth by Republicans – such as a version backed earlier this year by all 47 members of the Senate GOP conference -- because those versions would require a supermajority in both chambers in order to raise taxes.
A version requiring a simple majority rather than a supermajority on taxes could garner at least enough support to pass the House, according to some Democrats.
“Go back to the 1995 balanced budget and you’d get a lot of Democratic votes,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) told The Post in July.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters earlier this week that he has not yet decided when to hold his chamber’s balanced budget vote, and it’s not yet clear what type of balanced budget amendment the Senate might consider.
But by all indications the road to passage is likely to be a steep one: when the chamber voted in March on an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) expressing the “sense of the Senate” in support of the idea of a balanced budget amendment, 11 members of the Democratic caucus backed the measure – leaving the resolution nine votes short of a 67-vote supermajority.
The Goodlatte balanced budget amendment would require a three-fifths supermajority in both chambers in order for Congress to spend more than it receives in revenues in a particular year. It would also require a three-fifths vote in order to raise the debt ceiling, and would require the president to submit a balanced budget to Congress. Like the other balanced budget proposals, the Goodlatte version would waive certain provisions in times of war.
Goodlatte’s balanced budget amendment would go into effect either the second fiscal year after its ratification or the fiscal year beginning in October 2017. The Senate Republican measure, by contrast, would take effect in the fifth fiscal year after ratification.
While some Democrats support the idea of a balanced budget amendment, others argue that it would unduly restrain Congress’s budgetary authority and could lead to deep cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, not to mention the fact that even House Republicans’ 2012 budget would not balance the budget for years.
Some Democrats have also pointed to remarks by the head of Standard & Poor’s sovereign ratings division over the summer stating that a balanced budget amendment would be more harmful than helpful to the country’s creditworthiness.