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The resolution’s title was written by the resolution’s sponsor. H.J.Res. stands for House joint resolution.
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The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress.
The summary below was written by the House Republican Conference, which is the caucus of Republicans in the House of Representatives.
This summary can be found at http://www.gop.gov/bill/112/1/hjres2.
History of the Balanced Budget Amendment
The idea of a constitutional amendment to limit federal borrowing and debt has been discussed since the early years of our nation. Many founding fathers were very concerned with the accumulation of public debt and discussed the possibility of an amendment to the Constitution that would limit borrowing and debt. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the first constitutional amendment that would have required a balanced budget (H.J. Res. 579 in the 74th Congress) was introduced in 1936 by Rep. Harold Knutson. Since that time numerous attempts have been made to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA). In 1995, during the 104th Congress, the House approved H.J. Res. 1, a BBA which contained language identical to the underlying amendment, by a vote of 300-132. However, the bill fell short of garnering the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate by one vote, 65-35 (Majority Leader Dole switched his vote to no to preserve his ability to reconsider the measure). In 1997, the Senate voted on S.J. Res. 1, a BBA with identical language to the underlying bill and fell short of a two-thirds majority again by just one vote, with a final tally of 66-34.
On Monday, August 1, the House approved the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 (P.L. 112-25), by a vote of 269-161. As a part of the BCA, the House and Senate are required to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution between October 1, 2011, and December 31, 2011. In order to be approved by the House and Senate, this constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority (290 Representatives, 67 Senators). Upon passage by the House and Senate, the amendment would be sent to all 50 states for ratification.
Timeline of the Balanced Budget Amendment Consideration in Congress
The following timeline is based on the CRS report A Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment: Background and Congressional Options, which was last updated on August 3, 2011.
1936—The first balanced budget amendment to the Constitution (H.J. Res. 579) was introduced by Rep. Harold Knutson. No committee or floor action was taken.
1947—The Senate Appropriations Committee reported S.J. Res. 61, to require a balanced federal budget, which was then referred back to the Senate Judiciary Committee (S.Rept. 80-154). No further committee or floor action was taken.
1956—The Senate Judiciary Committee held the first hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget (S.J. Res. 126). No further committee or floor action was taken.
1975—The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to the balancing of the budget (S.J. Res. 55). No further committee or floor action was taken.
1979—Senator Dennis DeConcini introduced BBA legislation (S.J. Res. 126), which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution by a vote of 5-2. The amendment was ultimately voted down by the full Judiciary Committee by a vote of 9-8.
1982—Congress produced the first two-thirds approval of a BBA when the Senate adopted S.J. Res. 58 by a vote of 69-31 on August 4, 1982, following 11 days of floor deliberation. The amendment required Congress to balance the federal budget each fiscal year except in time of war. In addition, the amendment allowed budget outlays to exceed receipts for any fiscal year if three-fifths of Congress approved. Under the amendment, a majority of Congress could vote to allow additional receipts for any one year. Following a successful discharge petition effort, a similar proposal (H.J. Res. 350) failed in the House by a vote of 236-187, 46 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed.
1984—The Senate Judiciary Committee reported a BBA (S.J. Res. 5) that received no floor action. The comparable House proposal (H.J. Res 243) was not reported by the Judiciary Committee.
1985—The Senate Judiciary Committee approved two separate versions of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget (S.J. Res. 13 and S.J. Res. 225). The former included a provision to limit tax increases. However the latter (S.J. Res. 225) ultimately received Senate floor consideration and failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds by a vote of 66-34 on March 25, 1986.
1990—Following a successful discharge petition effort, the House considered a BBA (H.J. Res. 268) which failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds by a vote of 279-150.
1992—The House considered a BBA (H.J Res. 290) which failed by a vote of 280-153. The Senate also considered a BBA (S.J. Res. 18) which failed by a vote of to gather the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture in the face of a threatened filibuster.
1994—Once again, the House and Senate both considered BBAs on their respective floors but were both unable to achieve the necessary two-thirds vote. S.J. Res 41 and H.J. Res. 103 made it to the floor of the Senate and House but were defeated by a vote of 63-37 in the Senate and 271-153 in the House.
1995—Under the leadership of the newly elected Republican Majority, the House approved a BBA with a two-thirds majority for the first time in history. H.J. Res. 1, which contained language identical to the underlying amendment, was approved by a vote of 300-132. The amendment, however, fell short of garnering the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate by one vote, 65-35 (Majority Leader Dole switched his vote to no to preserve his ability to reconsider the measure).
1997—The Senate considered yet another BBA (S.J. Res. 1) with language identical to the underlying legislation. The Senate failed to achieve a two-thirds majority by just one vote, 66-34. This was the closest the Senate came to a two-thirds majority since the approval of S.J. Res. 58 in 1982.
2003—The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on a BBA (H.J. Res. 22) and reported the bill to the full committee by a vote of 5-3, but the legislation was never reported to the full House.
2011—Congress approved the Budget Control Act (BCA) as a part of the August debt limit agreement. The BCA requires the House and Senate to vote between October 1, 2011, and December 31, 2011, on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Under the legislation, if one chamber passes a resolution under this section with a two-thirds majority, the other chamber is required to proceed to a vote on that legislation regardless of other consideration or votes on a balanced budget amendment.
If approved by a two-thirds majority of each chamber of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures, H.J. Res. 2 would amend the Constitution to prohibit federal spending in any fiscal year from exceeding receipts for that year. The balanced budget requirement could be waived in a given year if three-fifths of both chambers approve a law to allow spending to exceed revenues.
In addition, the amendment would require a vote of three-fifths of both chambers to increase the statutory debt limit. The amendment would also require the president to submit a balanced budget to Congress each fiscal year and would require a majority vote of Congress to increase taxes. Under the amendment, the balanced budget requirement could be waived for any fiscal year in which a declaration of war is in effect or in any year that the U.S. is “engaged in military conflict which causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security and is so declared by a joint resolution, adopted by a majority of the whole number of each House, which becomes law.” Any such waiver must identify and be limited to the specific excess or increase for that fiscal year made necessary by the identified military conflict.
Congress would enforce the amendment through appropriate legislation which may rely on estimates to determine spending and revenues in a fiscal year. Under the amendment, total revenues would include all U.S. receipts excluding those derived from borrowing. Total spending would include all U.S. outlays except those for repayment of debt principal.
If the amendment is approved by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress it would be sent to the states for ratification. The amendment would become a part of the Constitution if it were ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures within seven years. If ratified, the amendment would take effect in the fifth fiscal year after ratification by the states.
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