David E. Kyvig


Republican capture of majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives at the November 8, 1994, election assured that the 104th Congress would address the question of a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. Six and a half weeks before the election nearly every Republican congressional incumbent and aspirant pledged to seek enactment of what they called a "Contract with America" if their party gained control of Congress. The balanced budget amendment figured prominently in this campaign declaration.' Thus the 1994 Republican electoral victory revived a perennial constitutional debate and demanded that anyone interested in the Constitution and American government reexamine the history and intent of this seemingly simple and straightforward, but actually subtle and potentially transformative reform proposal. A review of the history of the balanced budget amendment makes evident that support for the measure grew not from desires to refine modern government but rather from fundamental hostility to it. For two-thirds of a century the amendment's core architects and advocates have believed that it possessed the potential to reverse evolving federal government practice. An understanding of the history of constitutional amendment and particularly of the balanced budget measure's past, or a failure to comprehend such matters, may significantly affect the public policy decision facing the nation.