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A Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment

July 18, 2017

As the debt of the United States government continues to mount, efforts to add a balanced budget amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution are gaining steam. But drafting such an amendment is not as easy as it sounds.

Man balancing coins on a toy seesaw

(updated July 27, 2017)

In this new Policy Brief from The Heartland Institute, constitutional scholar Robert G. Natelson takes on the task. He notes:

One cannot merely copy balanced budget requirements from state constitutions because of the complexity of the federal financial system and because deficit financing is so ingrained in Washington, DC that conventional language likely would be evaded. Moreover, the amendment must be politically salable and consistent with the overall constitutional design. When measured against such criteria, existing drafts suffer from significant, and sometimes crippling, defects.

The Policy Brief opens with a brief discussion of the national government’s debt crisis. Noting “the same dysfunctions that impede Congress from balancing the federal budget also prevent it from proposing a BBA,” Natelson suggests an Article V convention of the states is the most promising vehicle for proposing a BBA.

He notes many challenges--political, practical, semantic--face those who would undertake to draft a constitutional amendment. He describes several criteria an amendment must meet to be successful, and he explains how his draft BBA meets those criteria. He concludes:

This draft balanced budget amendment is designed to renew and improve discussion, not to end it. This draft assists the process of developing an acceptable BBA by identifying criteria for drafting and suggesting ways to meet those criteria.
Author
Robert G. “Rob” Natelson is widely acknowledged to be the country’s leading scholar on the Constitution's amendment procedure, and among the leaders on several other topics.
media@heartland.org