I have made the case in several recent posts, here, here, and here, as to why we need a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This is a very timely issue since 27 states (out of the 34 required) have now called for a Constitutional Convention to propose such an amendment.
Many people have pointed out the difficulty of creating such an amendment which would be both effective enough to get the job done as well as flexible enough to allow for any emergencies which might arise.
Here are some suggestions for the main features which are needed:
- Prior to the beginning of each fiscal year, the President is required to submit a proposed budget for the U.S. Government in which total outlays do not exceed total receipts.
- Congress need not adopt the President’s proposed budget but is likewise required to adopt a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year.
- A two-thirds vote of each House of Congress is required to approve an excess of outlays over receipts, either for the entire budget or for supplemental spending once the fiscal year has begun. (Many proposed amendments require only three-fifths majorities for override but I think that this is insufficient.)
- Congress may pass appropriate legislation to implement and enforce this amendment. For example, official estimates of receipts and outlays could be provided by the Congressional Budget Office.
- The BBA amendment takes effect beginning with the fifth fiscal year following its ratification. (The idea here is to provide Congress with a sufficient time window to whittle down our current deficit spending, approximately $450 billion, to a more manageable amount, before the strict limits of the BBA take effect.)
Keep in mind that the real purpose of a BBA is not to establish exact numerical balance for the budget but to put our national debt on an overall downward course as a percentage of GDP. Occasional spending overrides during the budget year, as long as they are reasonable, will not detract from this goal. A two-thirds majority vote for balance overrides should be sufficient to accomplish this.