Radical Ratifications: The Balanced Budget Amendment Crosses New Lines



Jeremy Jackson.JPGThis summer I am fortunate enough to be a Machon Kaplan intern for the Religious Action Center. Prior to these last several days, I rarely followed the news and I only knew about the hot issues in politics. Suffice to say this all changed when I started interning for a social justice group in Washington D.C. The first action item I was asked to work on was the Balanced Budget Amendment (often referred to as the BBA), an item I’ve learned to be under-reported in the media. Now, as I learn more about the BBA, I hope that I may educate others on the truth behind this amendment.



Currently working its way through Congress is a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution known as H. J. Res. 1, proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). The Union for Reform Judaism has long supported deficit reduction and the goal of a balanced budget, but with one caveat–that such efforts do not undermine addressing needs within our communities or compromise the security or economic well-being of our nation. H. J. Res. 1 will undoubtedly endanger social safety programs currently in effect and threaten the most vulnerable among us.

Govt spending graph.jpgH. J. Res. 1 is even more dangerous than balanced budget amendments proposed in past decades. The 1990s version of this amendment, which failed to pass the Senate by one vote, had several key differences. The 1990s proposed amendment contained no predetermined spending limit. The absence of this provision would have allowed Congress to decide spending levels on a year-to-year basis depending on the need at the time, so long as sufficient revenues existed to pay for the spending. In contrast, H. J. Res. 1 incorporates a mandatory 18% spending limit of the previous year’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) stated during the House Judiciary Committee mark-up of H.J. Res. 1, “We have not been below 18 percent since 1966. Why 1966? Because that is the year before Medicare went into effect… to get to 18 percent would be impossible without decimating Medicare and Social Security and everything else.” In modern time, none of the previous administrations, including the most fiscally conservative ones, has dropped spending below 18% of GDP (see graph at left).

The second major difference between the amendment proposed in the 1990s and today’s H. J. Res. 1 is what’s required to raise tax revenue. The 1990s proposal would have required a simple majority vote of Congress to increase tax revenue to accommodate America’s need for more fiscal security. In contrast, H. J. Res. 1 requires a supermajority vote of 3/5 in each house of Congress to increase tax revenue. In the end, this would mean taxes would likely never increase and tax loopholes would remain in place even in the face of the most dire fiscal crises and increasing levels of poverty. Also an important note, this amendment specifies no requirement for a supermajority vote to lower taxes. This means an anti-tax majority in Congress could easily lower taxes, but a majority in Congress that felt revenue increases were necessary would likely be unable to raise taxes.

The scariest thing about this situation is that when the more modest BBA–but still detrimental–went through Congress in the 1990s, it easily passed through the House of Representatives and failed to secure Senate passage by only one vote. Ensure that H. J. Res. 1 doesn’t come this close to ratification by getting involved on the BBA issue. Click here to take action and save those who need your help!

Jeremy Jackson is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program, interning at Religious Action Center.

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