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Public Statements

History of a Balanced Budget Amendment

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

* Mr. JACKSON of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, the current budget situation is most poignant when looking at the origins of the Balanced Budget Amendment and its history.

* Mr. Speaker, after listening to my colleague's across the aisle present the Republican Study Committee's budget this morning, I'm apt to wonder what it is they're studying over there. Hopefully I'll be able to set the record straight.

* As a reaction to FDR's New Deal, Republican Congressman Harold Knutson of Minnesota introduced the first version of the amendment in 1936. Like many Constitutional Amendments, this resolution did not receive a hearing or a vote. During President Dwight D. Eisenhower's first term, the Judiciary Committee of a barely Democratic Senate held its first hearing on this amendment. It again did not receive a vote.

* After these partial defeats, BBA supporters shifted their focus to the states. From 1975 to 1980, 30 state legislatures passed resolutions calling for a constitutional convention to propose this Amendment directly to the states.

* The election of President Reagan and a Republican Senate in 1980, renewed hopes for the Balanced Budget Amendment and passage by Congress. While the Senate did adopt the amendment in 1982, it failed to garner the necessary three-fifths majority in the House. This failure energized conservative groups such as the National Taxpayers Union and the National Tax Limitation Committee to refocus on state action.

* In 1982 and 1983, the Alaska and Missouri legislatures passed resolutions supporting the BBA, bringing the total number of these resolutions to 32, two short of the 34 needed for a convention. However, a growing concern about the scope of a constitutional convention led some states to withdraw their resolutions, re-shifting focus to Congressional action.

* From 1990 to 1994, Congress would make three additional attempts to codify this amendment. All failed to garner the necessary three-fifths majority.

* However, the BBA made a comeback when it was included in Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. Twenty-six days after taking office, the newly empowered Republican majority adopted the BBA, giving conservatives their first Congressional win in a decade. Disappointment awaited in the Senate, where two separate votes fell just short of adoption. This failure, along with the balanced budget and the Budget surplus at the decade's end, sapped any remaining Congressional support for the BBA.

* There was renewed Republican support for the amendment in 2000 as it was included in party's platform. The Bush Tax Cuts, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the massive deficit spending created by them eventually led Republicans to sweep the Balanced Budget Amendment black under the rug. By 2004, the Republican Party left any mention of a balanced budget out of their platform.

* Again in recent years, with the advent of the Tea Party and the return of extreme fiscal conservatism in the Republican party, there are currently twelve Balanced Budget Amendments in the House and three in the Senate.

* I had my staff double check that for me. 12 Balanced Budget Amendments in the House. They are all basically the same. Some have even been offered by members of my own party.

* I understand these Members' frustration, Mr. Speaker.--I've been trying pass my nine Amendments to the Constitution for 10 years now and my Amendments are based on FDR's ``2nd Bill of Rights'' which he proposed back in 1944. Today, 67 years later, here we are.

* Mr. Speaker, I fundamentally believe that conservatives in congress are pushing for this amendment, not to force a vote in congress, but to rally states to act.

* Mr. Speaker, we have a troubling national debt and deficit. But the Balanced Budget Amendment is not the solution.

* The argument proponents of Balanced Budget Amendment make is as follows: like families, businesses, and states, the federal government should balance its budget. But since it does not, we need a constitutional amendment to guarantee that it will do so.

* Nearly every state in this Union has some form of a balanced budget requirement. But those states are not out of debt. Their amendments have restricted their ability to care for their citizens in times of austerity or emergency.

* According to a Forbes analysis of the global debt crises in January of 2010, every single state in the country is carrying some form of debt. These debts range from as little as $17 per capita in Nebraska to $4,490 in Connecticut.

* How can this be, Mr. Speaker? It's because the infrastructure of these states allows them to hide debt in Capital Funds. The federal government cannot, and I would argue the federal government should not follow this path.

* Congress should never seek to hide the fiscal realities from the public that bear the burden of the cost. Nor should we sell the public magic beans that a Balanced Budget Amendment will make the national debt and other problems go away. Debt will exist just as new problems will arise.

* In the fiscal year 2012, approximately 44 states will face revenue shortfalls. Many are desperately looking for ways to declare their state bankrupt. Bankrupt, I say it again, Mr. Speaker, because this proposed amendment would place the federal government in a similar predicament. The effect in many states is calamitous.

* For instance in Rhode Island, judges and court workers have cut pay and left 53 positions unfilled. This is still not enough to balance their budget. As a desperate last resort, the Chief Justice has begun to dispose of cases on backlog. Literally, just tossing them out. Florida is in the same predicament.

* Mr. Speaker, a Balanced Budget Amendment would force the federal government to deny Americans the right to seek redress and justice in federal courts, for the sake of balancing the budget.

* In my home state of Illinois, mental-health services have been cut by $91 million. Human Service directors are fearful that these cuts will cause a real public-health and public safety crisis.

* Iowa, Idaho, Alabama and Ohio are considering drastic cuts to education.

* My colleagues across the aisle are so concerned about handing our children and grandchildren any amount of national debt, that they have failed to realize we are setting future generations up for failure.

* States are already cutting too many services that make the American workforce strong and competitive. Should the federal government do the same, our legacy will be an America that is uneducated and ill-equipped to compete on a global level.

* Mr. Speaker, as exemplified by its effects on the states, this amendment may sound good on its face, but it falls flat when examined more critically.

* Like an optical illusion whose image changes as you draw closer, the Balanced Budget Amendment masquerades as the savior of our budget, yet in reality threatens to permanently destroy it.

* According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Citizens for Tax Justice, and others, a federal Balanced Budget Amendment would: Damage our economy by making recessions deeper and more frequent; Heighten the risk of default and jeopardize the full faith and credit of the U.S. government; Lead to reductions in needed investments for the future; favor wealthy Americans over middle- and low-income Americans by making it far more difficult to raise revenues and easier to cut programs; And weaken the principle of majority rule.

* Therefore, passing a Balanced Budget Amendment is not a prudent path for the nation to follow.

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