Normally a Republican idea, Utah’s Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams proposes a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, is proposing a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, something normally done by Republicans.

Washington • Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, has introduced legislation to propose a balanced budget amendment, jumping on an issue that has traditionally been a rallying cry for conservatives but one that is finding a new home among moderate Democrats worried about burgeoning national debt.

McAdams, the first Democrat to pitch such an amendment this congressional session, quickly found support from 26 fellow party members who are part of the Blue Dog Coalition.

“At a time when we face $1 trillion annual deficits, and both parties punt on even trying to pass a budget blueprint, we need to consider a new structure to force fiscal discipline," McAdams said. "With this bill, I'm saying let's stop ignoring the issue and start talking about how to address it."

McAdams won election last year over GOP Rep. Mia Love with one of the narrowest victories in the country and now represents a majority Republican district.

The legislation proposes an amendment to the Constitution that prohibits the federal government from spending more money than it takes in during the fiscal year, with the exception of times when the country is at war, engaged in a military conflict or facing a recession. It also exempts the requirement if the unemployment rate tops 7 percent for two or more consecutive months.

The president must also submit to Congress a balanced budget proposal every year.

The measure, though, bars a federal court from enforcing that requirement if it means cuts to Social Security or Medicare.

Such an amendment would need support of two-thirds of the House and Senate and ratification by 38 states to become the 28th addition to America’s original founding document.

Such bills have been introduced for generations, especially since budget surpluses in the 1990s turned to annual deficits, sending the national debt climbing to more than $22 trillion currently and rising.

Previous attempts have all failed, and McAdams’ bill faces an uphill road, given some more liberal members of his party, which controls the House, are proposing programs or initiatives that would add more to the national debt to tackle health insurance shortfalls or boost spending elsewhere.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who has made a balanced budget amendment a centerpiece of his time in office — it was the first bill he introduced after taking office in 2011 — declined to comment Tuesday as his office said it hadn’t seen McAdams’ bill.

Conservative efforts to balance the federal budget were accelerated during President Barack Obama’s term, though they have lost steam in recent years with President Donald Trump in the White House and deficits continuing to pile additional layers on the debt.

The president's budget blueprint submitted to Congress earlier this year would add $10 trillion to the debt over time and push back plans to have a balanced budget within eight years. The spending plan would, observers say, mean Trump will have added 50 percent more to the national debt by 2025.

The moderate Democrats backing the bill say partisan efforts previously haven’t worked because there wasn’t a push to bridge the gap and stop kicking the can down the road.

“It’s clearer than ever that the only way Congress will be able to produce a balanced budget is if it is required to do so by law,” said Rep. Lou Correa of California, a top leader of the Blue Dog Coalition.

“Washington needs to have a serious, bipartisan discussion about our nation’s fiscal state," Correa added. "Republicans and Democrats need to come together now to make tough decisions, and Rep. McAdams’ balanced budget amendment is a step in the right direction to putting our nation on a fiscally sustainable path. If we don’t address these problems, every single American will face serious economic repercussions.”

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