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GOP senators introduce balanced budget amendment

Image source: AP Photo/Alex Brandon, file

Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Chuck Grassley have introduced a measure that would effectively require lawmakers to balance the federal budget.

The joint resolution would create a brand new constitutional amendment saying that the federal government's annual expenses cannot be more than its annual revenue. Further, it would mean that the federal government's total debt during any given year could be no more than 18 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product from the prior year.

The senators' proposal doesn't just take on the issue of the national debt, though. It would also make it significantly harder for congressional lawmakers to raise taxes by requiring a two-thirds majority roll-call vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The same number of votes in each of the two chambers would be needed to raise the federal government's debt limit, as well.

"This amendment would put a stop to the current 'status quo' of Congress spending far more money than the federal government takes in and would place strict limitations on the federal government’s ability to increase taxes, raise the debt limit, and carry out other actions that threaten our long-term fiscal sustainability," Lee said in a statement released Wednesday.

Currently, the national debt stands at whopping $19.9 trillion. Meanwhile, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 2015, the most recent year for which complete data is available, was just more than $18 trillion, according to the World Bank.

Grassley echoed Lee's comments, saying the proposed Constitutional amendment is based on "simple math."

"The federal government should not be spending more taxpayer money than it brings in. Families, farmers and businesses across my home state of Iowa and across the entire country make difficult decisions every day to balance the books. It’s the responsible thing to do. Almost every state has adopted some form of a balanced budget requirement, and it’s past time that the federal government follows suit," Grassley said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 45 states currently have balanced budget amendments. Another four states have balanced budget statutory requirements. Vermont is the only one of the 50 states that has neither.

But balanced budget requirements are different in just about every state. In some cases, governors are required to submit balanced budgets to their respective legislative bodies or sign balanced budgets once the lawmakers pass a budget. Other states require the state legislature to pass a balanced budget or for the governor to sign one, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

However one looks at it, it's not hard to conceive how Lee and Grassley's Constitutional amendment could garner the support of three-fourths of state legislatures, which is required for the ratification of a new Constitutional amendment. Republicans now control both legislative chambers in 32 states, while that number for Democrats is 13. The legislative chambers in the five remaining states are either divided, equal or still undecided, according to NCSL.

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