Isakson Won't Say If BBA Should Limit Federal Spending As Share of GDP

By Fred Lucas | September 8, 2011 | 3:30 AM EDT

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R.-Ga.) talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in May 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

( - Congress must have a “straight jacket” in the form of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, according to Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

But he says he does not want to predetermine what provisions would be included in the proposal before it comes to a vote. The House and Senate will vote on a balanced budget amendment before the end of 2011.

“The United States Congress needs a straight jacket on spending and a balanced budget amendment is a good start,” Isakson told “I’m not going to pre-negotiate the debate on that until it comes to the floor. But we need to get the restraint and constraint that almost every other state in the union has.”

Isakson is a co-sponsor of the balanced budget amendment in the Senate, as wells as the Commitment to American Prosperity (CAP) Act, which ties spending levels to gross domestic product.

The version of the balanced budget amendment in the “cut, cap and balance” proposal that passed the House by a majority this summer would require that Congress balance the budget each fiscal year, meaning no deficit spending, It would further require a two-thirds majority to increase taxes, and cap spending in proportion with GDP growth.

“I’m not going to presuppose what it’s got to have in it or doesn’t have to have in it. But it must require us to balance our budget,” Isakson added.

The actual language of the amendment Congress will vote on before the end of the year has not yet been determined. However, conservative Republicans including Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Louie Gohmert of Texas fear GOP leaders may agree to vote on a stripped down amendment, one 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 fear 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 234-190 vote, it included a version of the balanced budget amendment to cap federal spending at 19.9 percent of GDP. The GOP originally sought to hold federal spending to 18 percent of GDP.

The version of the amendment in the cut, cap and balance plan also required two-thirds majorities in both houses to approve a tax increase. It would also have prohibited deficit spending unless there was a national security emergency or unless a supermajority of Congress voted for it. On July 22, the Senate voted 51-46 to approve a procedural motion that blocked substantive consideration of the cut, cap and balance bill in that chamber.

The debt-limit deal reached by President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) requires that both houses of Congress give an up-or-down vote to a balanced budget amendment before the end of the year.

However, it does not specify what the language of the amendment will be. 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.

See related stories:

RSC Chairman Wants to See ‘Exact Language’ of BBA Before Deciding Whether to Support It

Gohmert: Balanced Budget Amendment Must Include Spending Cap

King: No to Balanced Budget Amendment That Doesn’t Require Supermajority to Hike Taxes

Franks Backs BBA Even Without Spending Cap or Supermajority for Tax Hikes