The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Are Republicans Serious About a Balanced Budget Amendment?

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


In 2018, Republicans have done little to separate themselves from Democrats when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars.  On February 9, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 eviscerated the last semblance of fiscal responsibility in Washington, the 2011 Budget Control Act, by allowing spending caps to increase by $300 billion over the next two years.  As a follow up on March 23, with less than 24 hours of review, Congress blindly passed a mammoth 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion fiscal year (FY) 2018 omnibus spending bill.

These reckless examples of spending combined with rising interest rates and President Trump’s $870 billion deficit projection for 2018 threaten to take the currently booming economy and turn it into a future disaster.  According to a Washington Post op-ed from several Hoover Institution fellows and economists, outstanding public debt is expected to rise to $20 trillion over the next five years, up $5 trillion from where it stands now.

Just a week after the omnibus, reports indicate that a balanced budget amendment (BBA) will get a vote on the House floor following the Easter recess.  For years, fiscal conservatives have pushed for the adoption of a BBA to the Constitution.  At its core, a BBA is a constitutional constraint on Congress from recklessly spending taxpayer dollars.  By requiring that the government not spend more money than it takes in, a BBA would handcuff Congress from further growing the national debt.  Done correctly, a BBA could have a significant impact in curtailing out-of-control spending in Washington.

But how serious is this BBA proposal?

A BBA has no real chance of passing and according to Politico, Republicans fully understand that.  Amendments to the Constitution need two-thirds of the House and Senate as well as three-fourths of the states to approve the proposal.  Because of polarization in Congress, along with the Senate’s very slim Republican majority, the chances of two-thirds of both chambers approving a BBA are highly unlikely.  For Republicans, bringing a BBA to the floor is a chance to get members on the record having voted for a fiscally conservative piece of legislation that they can present to their home districts come November.

While Democrats have shown little interest in saving taxpayer dollars, Republicans had a chance this year to follow up on their successful tax reform legislation by cutting spending, streamlining the budget process, and reforming entitlement programs.  Instead, the majority party has started 2018 by busting the budget caps, drastically increasing spending, and now taking a vote doomed to fail on legislation that could potentially do some good.  While there is certainly merit to a BBA, do not be duped by this attempt at fiscal conservative theater.

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