Principled or Practical? An Examination of Constitutional Rhetoric on the Balanced Budget Amendment
Henderson, Emily Michelle
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Constitutional interpretation is a widely contested issue in American politics. How a politician interprets the Constitution, either as a static or living document, ultimately may determine how he or she will vote on a particular amendment to the Constitution. Studying the different arguments and discourses surrounding a very polarized and relevant issue, the Balanced Budget Amendment, I seek to answer what major theoretical arguments representatives use to discuss this Amendment and how they conceptualize altering the Constitution. A content analysis of the relevant Balanced Budget Amendment debate in the 104th Congress and the 112th Congress provides a useful method to determine whether theoretical or pragmatic approaches affect the way congressmen discuss constitutional amendments and ultimately cast their vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment. Traditionally, Republicans are expected to use originalist rhetoric to discuss constitutional amendments while Democrats view the Constitution as a living document that should change to fit modern society. After conducting the content analysis, however, I found that Republicans used very pragmatic approaches and arguments in favor of the Balanced Budget Amendment and Democrats mentioned originalist arguments more often. In contrast to how we commonly think about ideology and constitutional rhetoric, this surprising conclusion shows that ideology does not fully account for political actions, but instead, politicians make decisions based on political motivations in order to reach an end goal. This provides a better understanding of the motivations behind constitutional interpretation and what influences congressional rhetoric and votes.