Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) says he’s hopeful the ratification of a balanced budget amendment is realistic in today’s political climate -- and touted the features of his proposal for such an amendment as well-suited to curb Congress’ spending addiction.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Lee said on a Thursday conference call. “But public sentiment among voters makes this right for our time.”
The senator will need every ounce of that public support. The threshold to pass a constitutional amendment is high. Two-thirds of both houses of Congress must pass it, then three-quarters of states must ratify the amendment to make it law.
Lee has been working for weeks to generate support for his amendment among fellow Republicans. In the very near future, he’ll also reach across the aisle.
“At this point, I’m working almost entirely within the Republican caucus to garner support for this,” Lee said. “There will of course come a time when we will work aggressively to get bipartisan support. … That time will soon be coming.”
The debt ceiling debate might be that time. Senate Tea Party Caucus members -- including Lee -- have already said they’ll harness that debate to earn Democratic support for a balanced budget amendment, according to a Jan. 31 article on TheHill.com.
“The only scenario in which I can imagine not using the filibuster [during the debt ceiling debate] is if the leadership of both parties agree that as a condition of that they would first pass out a balanced budget amendment,” Lee said in the article.
As Lee sees it, a balanced budget amendment is the only way to lock the vault.
“I’ve come to believe it’s going to be difficult or impossible to get back to constitutional spending until we stop giving Congress unlimited money from which to draw,” he said.
Lee’s amendment would require that Congress develop a budget each year in which outlays do not exceed revenues -- and it would also restrict spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product. Congress could not circumvent the limitations of the amendment without the support of a two-thirds supermajority in both houses.
Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) have also introduced a balanced budget proposal that differs slightly from Lee’s -- but Lee said he will work with them to increase the likelihood that a balanced budget amendment of some form will pass.
“We don’t have exactly the same ideas, but I think we both acknowledge that we will need to move forward with either one or the other and there are ongoing discussions about that,” Lee said. “I’m sure that we’re going to get all of that worked out within the next few weeks.”
So far, Democrats have not introduced their own version of an amendment, but Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has expressed his support for a balanced budget amendment of some kind.
Tina Korbe is a staff writer in the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism outlet at The Heritage Foundation.