This Presidential Candidate Once Said He Supported a BBA  

by Stuart MacPhail  June, 2019

Back in 1995 when he was a US Senator, Joe Biden made an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate asking fellow political leaders to join him in supporting an amendment to the US Constitution that would require the federal government to operate under a balanced budget.

Writing for PasteMagazine on May 20, Walter Bragman reported on Biden’s January 1995 floor speech when he was two dozen years younger.  At that time Biden chided liberals in his own party over their reluctance to cut federal spending on a variety of entitlement programs.

When Biden spoke in 1995 the US House had already formally endorsed a proposed BBA bill (known as HJ Res 1) by a vote of 300 to 132, well above the required 2/3 vote for proposing a constitutional amendment.  The bill was called “The Fiscal Responsibility Act,” and had its origins in the GOP’s “Contract with America” written by US Representatives Newt Gingrich and Dick Army.

The Senate was in a hot debate about the measure, and was considering a variety of modifications to the proposed constitutional amendment.  Ultimately the bill failed by being one vote short of the necessary 2/3 Senate approval.  The “NO” votes came from Republican Mark Hatfield (OR) and all 34 Democrats.  That means even the seemingly supportive Biden voted against it.

With one more Senate vote that proposal would have gone to the states to be considered for ratification.  Wording in the proposal was not as robust as today’s BBA advocates would prefer, but it could have been a large step forward in restraining the grossly excessive spending that has since led the US to more than $22 trillion in debt.

In 1995 Biden used many of the same talking points that today’s BBA advocates use.  According to Bragman “To Biden, the amendment, while certainly not perfect, was still desirable to no amendment at all, given how much the U.S. was projected to spend on interest payments on the national debt.”  During Biden’s speech, with his trademark staccato emphasis he asked what had happened “to that old conservative discipline of paying for what you spend?”

Biden’s 52½ minute speech can be watched and heard HERE, starting at the 2 hour, 18½  minute mark.  Biden’s current views on a balanced budget amendment are unknown.  But his 1995 vote overshadowed his Senate floor rhetoric.

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