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October 2016 Policy Study, Number 16-3


How To Restore Federal Fiscal Sanity: The State Legislatures Hold The Key


Does A Balanced Budget Amendment Belong In Our U.S. Constitution?



How can you justify putting economic details into our Constitution?


Saving our nation and our children from the disaster of unlimited federal debt is far more than an “economic detail.”  This is a human rights issue, not merely an economic issue.


What do you mean by saying this is a human rights issue?


Our people’s right not to have massive debt imposed on us is so important that it needs and deserves constitutional protection.  One major purpose of our Constitution is to protect human rights by limiting the power of government.  President Woodrow Wilson said, “The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power.”


More than 200 years ago, wise Americans amended our Constitution to give us a Bill of Rights.  If they hadn’t put these rights into our Constitution, Congress and the President would have the unlimited power to decide how much freedom of speech and worship we could have – a sobering thought.


Isn’t it equally sobering that our Congress and President now have the absolute, unlimited power to spend, tax, and borrow – and to pile mountains of debt on future generations?


If Thomas Jefferson were here now, he would be leading the campaign for the Balanced Budget Amendment.  Jefferson warned that the Constitution should be amended to prohibit federal debt.  He said even the best government can’t be trusted with absolute power. Jefferson would say that unlimited federal spending, taxing, and debt are un-American; they violate our great American principle of limited government.


We, the people, uphold the proud heritage of our Bill of Rights when we amend our Constitution to protect the people against runaway federal spending, taxing, and debt.  This protection does belong in the Constitution, right alongside our freedom of speech and worship.


So a Constitutional Amendment is essential to getting a balanced federal budget and halting our debt addiction?


Yes, for at least three big reasons.  In summary:


  1. Only the Constitution is strong enough to compel Congress and the President to balance the budget.  Laws, promises, and good intentions have totally failed.
  1. Only the Constitution can overcome the terrible power of the organized special interests that get what they want from federal politicians handing out borrowed dollars.
  1. Protecting the people against unlimited national debt is so important that it belongs in the Constitution.  This is a vitally important human-rights issue.




The amendment that came within one Senate vote of passage by Congress in 1995 will require that total federal spending (“total outlays”) must not exceed total federal revenue (“total receipts”) for each year, with two exceptions:


  1. Deficit spending will be allowed during a declared war or serious military conflict.
  1. Three-fifths (60 percent) of all members of each House of Congress will be able to approve a specific amount of deficit spending by roll-call vote.  The federal debt limit will only be increased by a roll-call vote of three-fifths (60 percent) of all members of each House of Congress.

The President will be required to submit a balanced budget to Congress each year.


Any increase in taxes or other revenue will need to be approved by a constitutional majority of each House of Congress – a “yes” vote by a majority of all members in a roll-call vote. 


The amendment will take effect for fiscal year 2002 or the second fiscal year beginning after its ratification by 38 State Legislatures.


This proposed Balance Budget Amendment is supported by a bipartisan majority of Congress but has not yet received the required two-thirds vote in both Houses to propose a Constitutional Amendment.  In 1995, the House passed the BBA with more than two-thirds of the votes, but in the Senate it fell one vote short of the required two-thirds majority.  In another Senate vote in 1997, it again was one vote short.


NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION would prefer to strengthen the Balanced Budget Amendment in several ways:  requiring a two-thirds vote of both Houses to allow a deficit or to increase federal debt; requiring a two-thirds vote to raise taxes or increase revenue; and limiting the growth rate of total federal revenue and spending.  However, we realize it is better to adopt a very good BBA than to wait forever for a perfect one.


NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION vigorously supports this amendment.  We believe it is strong, effective, and urgently needed.




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