WASHINGTON – A group of House members introduced a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Thursday, arguing that recent deficits demonstrate Congress doesn't have the discipline to balance the budget on its own.
"The time has come for a little constitutional supervision over the Congress, just like we have to have parental supervision over our children," said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
The amendment was introduced by Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., who told a Capitol Hill news conference, "It's hypocritical to say you oppose the deficit but don't support the balanced budget amendment."
To win passage, the amendment would have to clear both the House and Senate by two-thirds margins and then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures. It would go into effect in 2008 or two years after final passage, whichever is later.
The White House is projecting budget deficits of $304 billion this year and $307 billion next year. Democrats say the Bush administration is to blame because of President Bush's 2001 tax cuts and his proposed $1.3 trillion in additional tax cuts.
Both Sensenbrenner and Istook support Bush's tax cuts, but they said that was not inconsistent with a balanced budget amendment. Sensenbrenner argued that the tax cuts would stimulate the economy and raise more tax revenue.
"This is more of a brake on spending than anything else," he said.
The White House has said President Bush supports a balanced budget amendment but that it should include exceptions for war, national emergency and economic recession. Istook's amendment has an exception for declared war or national emergency but not for recessions.
The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, issued a statement Thursday questioning the usefulness of the amendment.
"A constitutional amendment does nothing to resolve the re-emergence of deficits because it lays down no plan of action and will not take effect for six years at the earliest," he said.
The last time a balanced budget amendment came up for a vote, in 1997, it came one vote short in the Senate. It passed the House in 1995.
Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, has introduced a balanced budget amendment in the Senate.