GOP lawmakers push balanced budget mandate in Constitution

PHOENIX (AP) –Lawmakers from 19 states are trying to develop a plan in Arizona this week for carrying out a growing, but unlikely, national effort to amend the Constitution to require a balanced U.S. budget, a long-held goal of conservatives who believe out-of-control spending is harming the nation.

The plan is to add an amendment to the Constitution through a convention – a longshot effort that has never been successfully done. All 27 amendments that have been adopted were proposed by Congress.

A balanced budget amendment is a core goal of conservative Republicans who have gained control of an increasing number of state Legislatures in recent years, now holding both chambers in 32 states. Backers include groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity.

The effort also comes against the backdrop of deep turmoil in Washington over debt spending. Top congressional Democrats last week cut a deal with President Donald Trump to increase the federal debt limit, avoiding for now a fight that commonly causes divisions and threats of a government shutdown.

The goal of amendment backers is to eliminate the federal deficit and drive down the national debt, which is approaching $20 trillion. The current federal budget includes spending of about $4 trillion and has a shortfall of nearly $700 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Congress debated a balanced budget amendment in the early and mid-1990s, but it did not pass.

The lawmakers meeting this week are discussing a process that requires several steps. Thirty-four states must vote to adopt the amendment and convene a convention, but it still must be ratified by three-quarters of the states.