GOP Conference Chair Won’t Rule Out BBA That Allows Limitless Federal Spending

By Fred Lucas | September 8, 2011 | 4:33 AM EDT

Washington ( – Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) told he supports a Balanced Budget Amendment, but will not rule out voting for one that does not include requirements that federal spending be capped as a percentage of GDP that only a supermajority vote can increase taxes.

Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, was a co-sponsor of a BBA that included both of those provisions but said today on Capitol Hill he would consider other proposals.

The House and Senate will vote on a BBA before the end of 2011. Alexander, asked if could vote for a BBA proposal that did not include a spending cap and a supermajority requirement, said, “I’d have to read it first.”

“I support the balanced budget amendment,” Alexander told “I co-sponsored the balanced budget amendment that all 47 Republican senators have supported. There are a variety of other versions which I might consider as well. But I’m not going to start giving hypotheticals.”

He added, “I support the balanced budget amendment that I co-sponsored and I’ll consider other versions.”

The actual language of the balanced budget amendment that Congress will vote on before the end of the year has not been determined. However, many conservative Republicans, such as Reps. Steve King (Iowa) and Louie Gohmert (Texas), fear that GOP leaders may agree to vote on a stripped-down amendment that requires Congress to balance the budget but does not cap spending as a percentage of GDP or require supermajorities to raise taxes.

The conservative lawmakers and activists have expressed concern that an amendment of that nature, which might win the backing of some incumbent congressional liberals, would become a constitutional lever for sustaining big government via ever-escalating federal taxation.

When the Republican-controlled-House approved the Cut, Cap and Balance plan on July 19 in a 234-190 vote, it included a version of the balanced budget amendment to cap federal spending at 19.9 percent of GDP. The Republicans originally had sought to hold federal spending to 18 percent of GDP.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)

The version of the balanced budget amendment in the Cut, Cap and Balance plan also required two-thirds majorities in both houses to approve a tax increase. The amendment also would have prohibited deficit spending unless there was a national security emergency or a supermajority of Congress voted for it.

On July 22, the Democrat-controlled Senate voted 51-46 to approve a procedural motion that blocked substantive consideration of the Cut, Cap and Balance bill in that body.

The debt-limit deal reached by President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) requires that both chambers of Congress give an up or down vote to a balanced budget amendment before the end of this year. However, it does not specify the language of the amendment.

If two-thirds of Congress votes to approve a balanced budget amendment, it would then have to be ratified by 38 states, or three-fourths.

The House passed that debt-limit deal by a 269-161 vote on Aug. 1.