Rep. Trent Franks: Simplify the Balanced-Budget Amendment

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Representative Trent Franks (R., Ariz.), a longtime proponent of the Balanced Budget Amendment, says House Republicans have not yet united around the version of that amendment being promoted by Senate Republicans — and he thinks they ought to go with a different version.

The Senate Republicans’ version of the amendment is unlike the one that has at different times in the past gotten supermajority support in the House and the Senate. It requires budgets to be balanced, but also imposes supermajority requirements for raising taxes (or the debt ceiling) and caps federal spending at 18 percent of GDP. For Franks, the virtue of a stripped-down amendment — one that only requires balance — is that it is “so simple, so easy to understand.”

Some Republicans worry that the simple amendment would lead to tax increases. Franks, though one of the most conservative members of the House, does not share this worry, arguing that new tax increases would not yield much revenue and that congressional and popular resistance to tax increases would carry the day.

Franks believes that Republicans should be willing to pass a bill increasing the debt ceiling to cover the rest of the Obama presidency — but taking effect only once the House and Senate have (on a two-thirds vote of each chamber) sent the balanced-budget amendment to the states. “Why is that so unreasonable?” he asks. The states, he notes, would still be free to reject the idea.

“Ronald Reagan said stand behind an 80 percent issue and smile,” Franks says, and some polls show an amendment getting nearly that much support. House Republicans generally agree that they should move forward with a balanced-budget amendment. It remains to be seen whether they can reach a consensus on which one, and how.

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