Yesterday, I offered it as a hopeful sign amid all the gloom-and-doom of the debt debate (optimism for a deal at an all-time low and all that) that the House Republicans still plan to vote on a balanced budget amendment next week. Now, it looks like the Senate will follow suit. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to force a vote on a BBA in the Senate sometime in the next two weeks.
Obviously, a balanced budget amendment is a very different proposition in the Senate than it is in the House. As is always much discussed in relation to such an amendment, the threshold for constitutional change is quite high. Amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote by each chamber and the ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures. That means Senate Republicans would need the support of 20 Democrats to pass it. But … it just so happens that at least 20 Democrats have said in the past they would support some kind of balanced budget amendment.
Not all BBAs are created equal, however. Garnering Democratic support for the sort of amendment that meets the strictures of the “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge that has provided so much momentum for the balanced budget amendment movement at this juncture in the first place is very different than garnering Democratic support for a generic BBA. The amendment under consideration in the context of “Cut, Cap and Balance” would also constrain taxing and spending in significant ways, whereas some types of BBAs provide justification for tax increases.
But the bottom line is, as much of a pipe dream as it might seem, Republicans are doing just what they should be by keeping this in the public eye and even making it a part of the debt limit debate. I’ll keep repeating it: A majority of Americans support a balanced budget amendment and a significant portion have even said they’d be more likely to give their political support to a candidate who has supported a BBA than one who hasn’t. These sorts of gestures show the American people Republicans are on the side of fiscal restraint — and, ideally, help to move the electorate in the direction of shaping a Congress that someday might actually pass such an amendment.