This semester, the Buckley Program held a college essay contest with the topic: If you could propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, what would it be? The following essay by Abhay Rangray, a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College, won 3rd place.
Many justifications for changing the constitution have been used; two are particularly important. To solve practical problems facing the nation and to limit the power of the federal government. The 21st amendment demonstrates the utilization of both criteria. The 21st amendment repealed the 18th amendment thus ending alcohol prohibition. This amendment fulfilled both justifications for amending the constitution. The amendment solved the practical problem of illicit alcohol consumption and organized crime. Furthermore, the amendment limited the power of the federal government over the individual. The freedom of an American to drink increased while the power of the government to prohibit decreased. Thus, the 21st amendment met both justifications.
Although these two criteria do not encompass all amendments, they provide a basis for understanding the nature of impactful amendments. This is because these two criteria have provided the foundation for many successful amendments. Therefore, using them as indicators of an amendment’s necessity will prove to be a fruitful enterprise. Although they are not the only criteria which can be used for an amendment proposition, I will choose to use these two reasons in my proposition.
A pressing issue facing the nation is that of the budget. This is evidenced by the fact that the federal budget deficit and debt continue to expand to previously unthinkable figures. This is a problem to the economic health of the nation. Excess debt limits the economic growth potential of the US. It also makes the nation less capable of dealing with future economic calamities. The problem has alluded a solution by both parties for several decades. The budget problem meets both criteria for a constitutional amendment. Because of this, I propose a balanced budget amendment to the US constitution.
The budget is a practical problem. An amendment could solve the problem by limiting the growth of debt. The government could not spend beyond its means and thus couldn’t take on more debt thus making the solution likely to succeed. Many countries, such as Germany, Italy, and Switzerland have tried a similar solution to much success. Once federal expenditure becomes balanced, the nation can direct surplus to other objectives.
Also, individual freedom increases by limiting the federal budget. Economic pressure is the primary indirect means through which the government limits freedom. The most visible example is the funding for highways. The federal government can coerce states to increase their drinking ages to secure federal funds. Not only is this a violation of the principles of federalism but is an inhibitor to individual liberty. A balanced amendment would restore the balance of powers under federalism. Without the economic means to borrow surplus, the capacity of the federal government to force states would be eliminated. Thus, the amendment acts as a future safeguard against encroachments upon liberty.
A constitutional amendment which forces the government to pass a balanced budget is necessary and justified since it meets both criteria. A balanced budget solves the problem of the national debt. Furthermore, since the federal government would lack the ability to enforce liberty crushing laws freedom would be safeguarded. Thus, the amendment would solve both problems. This makes it a justified amendment. Although this solution is not perfect, it would be a step in the right direction. There exists no perfect solution to this problem; however, a balanced budget amendment would likely yield success.
Not only would the amendment would be successful its passage would also be probable. The budget amendment was proposed and almost passed in the 1980’s. Even though Tip O’Neill later killed the amendment the fact that it was close to passing showcases its congressional viability. Since the debt problem of our nation has grown, Congress would be more willing to solve the problem with such an amendment. A balanced budget is a more viable and longstanding solution to the budget problem.
The most obvious concern for the amendment arises from emergency situations, such as war. For national security reasons, the amendment would be detrimental. However, an emergency clause would resolve this problem. Having the clause tied to a formal declaration of war would be the best method to ensure that debt based spending occurs only when necessary. This can be a dangerous exception but if managed well it would provide the provisions for national security and economic stability. Therefore, the amendment will not limit the security of the nation.
Given the scope of the problem facing the nation, immediate action is necessary. A balanced budget would provide the backbone for a solution to the debt problem. The amendment is important and necessary since it solves a major problem facing the nation while at the same time secures freedom for future generations. Thus the US Constitution should possess a balanced budget amendment.