Super-Majority Voting Requirement for Tax Increases: An Overview of Proposals for a Constitutional Amendment
CRS Report for Congress
Super-Majority Voting Requirement for Tax
Increases: An Overview of Proposals for a
Jay R. Shampansky
American Law Division
This report is an overview of proposed constitutional amendments (includingth
H.J.Res. 50 and H.J.Res. 54, 108 Cong.) to require a super-majority vote for certain tax
increases. Proponents of an extraordinary majority requirement argue that it would lead
to greater public confidence in the predictability and stability of the tax system;
opponents counter that such a requirement would disregard the constitutional principle
of majority rule. There are now only a few constitutional provisions which expressly
impose super-majority voting requirements.
This report will be updated as legislative action occurs. For additional information
on this topic, see CRS Report 98-368, A Tax Limitation Constitutional Amendment:
Issues and Options Concerning a Super-Majority Requirement.
Joint resolutions have been introduced in the House in the 108th Congress to amend1
the Constitution to require a super-majority vote to adopt certain tax increases. H.J.Res.
1 A “simple majority” is a majority of legislators present and voting when a quorum is present
(i.e., one-half plus one of the Members voting). A “constitutional majority” is a majority of
Members elected to a House and entitled to vote. An “extraordinary majority” (sometimes
referred to as a “super-majority”) requires some higher percentage of Members to pass a measure
than either a simple or a constitutional majority. See Dyer v. Blair, 390 F. Supp. 1291, 1296 n.4,
Constitutional amendments have been proposed (see, e.g., H.J.Res. 6, 108 Cong.) that would
require that bills to increase revenue be approved by a constitutional majority of each House.
Such proposed amendments are beyond the scope of this report. Also not included in the report
are proposed amendments to require a rollcall vote on revenue increases, unless such measures
also require a super-majority vote.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
by Representative Ose on April 12, 2003, are identical measures2 which provide that “any
bill, resolution, or other legislative measure changing the internal revenue laws shall
require for final adoption in each House the concurrence of two-thirds of the Members of
the House voting and present, unless that bill, resolution, or other legislative measure is
determined at the time of adoption, in a reasonable manner prescribed by law, not to
increase the internal revenue by more than a de minimis amount.” Certain requirements
established by H.J.Res. 50 and H.J.Res. 54 could be waived by Congress when a
declaration of war is in effect or when the United States is engaged in a military conflict
which causes an imminent and serious threat to national security and which is declared
by a joint resolution and enacted into law.
If any proposed constitutional amendment to require a super-majority vote for certain
tax measures were to be approved by two-thirds of each House of Congress and ratified
by three-fourths of the states, it would join a relative handful of existing constitutional
provisions which expressly impose super-majority voting requirements for actions such
as passing a bill over a presidential veto or approving a treaty. Although there is no
constitutional provision requiring that the House and Senate act by majority vote3 in
instances not governed by one of the provisions mandating a super-majority, both bodies
do, in most instances, operate by majority rule.4
In the last seven years, the House has considered constitutional amendments to
require a two-thirds vote on certain tax legislation. In 1996, on tax day, the House
considered, but did not approve, H.J.Res. 159, 104th Cong. In 1997, also on tax day, the
House debated, but did not approve, a similar measure, H.J.Res. 62, 105th Cong. On April
H.J.Res. 94, 106th Cong.7 On April 25, 2001, the House debated, but did not approve,
2 The proposals introduced in the 108th Congress are identical to H.J.Res. 41,107th Cong., which
was introduced by Representative Sessions on March 22, 2001. On April 4, 2001, the House
Committee on the Judiciary considered H.J.Res. 41 and ordered it to be reported by a vote of 17-thst
3 The Constitution does specify that “a majority of each [House] shall constitute a quorum to do
business.” Article I, § 5, cl. 1.
4 Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice, § XLI, states: “The voice of the majority
decides; for the lex majoris partis is the law of all councils, elections, etc., where not otherwise
expressly provided....” The Supreme Court observed in United States v. Ballin, 144 U.S. 1, 6
(1892): “...[T]he general rule of all parliamentary bodies is that, when a quorum is present, the
act of a majority of the quorum is the act of the body. This has been the rule for all time, except
so far as in any given case the terms of the organic act under which the body is assembled have
prescribed specific limitations.”
5 See 144 Cong. Rec. H2133-64, H2170-71 (daily ed. Apr. 22, 1998).
6 See 145 Cong. Rec. H2061-98 (daily ed. Apr. 15, 1999).
7 See 146 Cong. Rec. H2128-47 (daily ed. Apr. 12, 2000).
H.J.Res. 41, 107th Cong.8 And last year, on June 12, the House once again considered, but
did not approve, such a measure, H.J.Res. 96, 107th Cong.9
Scheduling of the vote in the House on H.J.Res. 159 in the 104th Congress was the
fulfillment of a promise made by the Republican leadership in January, 1995, when the
House approved a balanced-budget constitutional amendment but rejected a version of
that amendment, offered by Representative Barton, that would have required a three-fifths
super-majority in both Houses to raise taxes. The three-fifths proviso was included in the
Contract with America.
Although the House did not approve a constitutional amendment imposing a three-
fifths requirement for tax increases, it did include in a package of House rules changes
adopted on the first day of the 104th Congress a provision requiring that an income tax rate
increase be approved by three-fifths of the Representatives voting.10 H.J.Res. 50 and
H.J.Res. 54, 108th Cong., would be more stringent than the present House rule in several
respects. In contrast to the rule, the amendments: (a) would apply to both chambers, not
just the House; (b) would impose a super-majority requirement of two-thirds, rather than
three-fifths; (c) would be subject to waiver only on the grounds specified in the
amendments; and (d) would apply to a broader range of measures.11
The National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform, chaired by former
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, maintained that an extraordinary
majority requirement would lead to greater public confidence in the predictability and
stability of the tax system. Proponents of the two-thirds voting requirement argue that
since it would make raising taxes more difficult, it would compel Congress to be “more
fiscally responsible”12 and to “focus on options other than raising taxes to manage the
federal budget.”13 Proponents also argue that the two-thirds requirement would preclude
8 See 147 Cong. Rec. H1563-82 (daily ed. Apr. 25, 2001).
9 See 148 Cong. Rec. H3472-87 (daily ed. June 12, 2002).
10 The provision added the following new paragraph to House Rule XXI, cl. 5: “(c) No bill or
joint resolution, amendment, or conference report carrying a Federal income tax rate increase
shall be considered as passed or agreed to unless so determined by a vote of not less than three-th
fifths of the Members voting.” (The rule was recodified in the 106 Congress as Rule XXI, cl.
5(b).) A lawsuit challenging the rule was dismissed for lack of standing. Skaggs v. Carle, 898
F. Supp. 1 (D.D.C. 1995), aff’d, 110 F.3d 831 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The suit was predicated on the
premise that the rule was violative of the Constitution which, except in a few instances in which
it specifically provides otherwise, seems to implicitly incorporate the parliamentary principle of
majority rule. Of course, a constitutional amendment mandating a super-majority vote for tax
increases would not be vulnerable to a comparable legal attack.
11 Whereas the House rule applies only to a measure “carrying a Federal income tax rate
increase” (emphasis added), H.J.Res. 50 and H.J.Res. 54 would apply to any measure “changing
the internal revenue laws.”
12 145 Cong. Rec. H2081 (daily ed. Apr. 15, 1999)(remarks of Rep. Bliley).
13 H.Rept. 105-50, 105th Cong., 1st Sess. 2 (1997)(report on H.J.Res. 62, 105th Cong.).
tax increases without a “national consensus of a super-majority”14 and would make it
clear that legislation raising taxes is a matter of special importance.15
Opponents of an extraordinary majority requirement argue that the proposed
amendment “disregards [the] constitutional principle of majority rule,”16 and would thus
shift control of tax legislation to a minority of Members in each House,17 producing
“tyranny” by a minority of one-third.18 Opponents also contend that an extraordinary
majority requirement is impractical, as demonstrated by several instances in which the
House has waived its rule mandating a three-fifths vote for tax increases,19 and would lead
to considerable litigation.20
Proponents of the two-thirds voting requirement also have differed with opponents
as to the scope of tax legislation that would be encompassed by a constitutional
amendment that imposes a super-majority voting requirement,21 as to the application of
such an amendment to legislation to close “loopholes” that may benefit certain
taxpayers,22 and as to whether a citizen would have standing to seek a judicial ruling
concerning congressional compliance with the two-thirds rule.23 Finally, advocates of a
two-thirds majority requirement have argued that the Constitution presently requires such
14 146 Cong. Rec. H2144 (daily ed. Apr. 12, 2000)(remarks of Rep. Barton, of Texas). See also
15 142 Cong. Rec. 2879 (1996)(remarks of Senator Kyl).
16 H.Rept. 105-50, supra note 13, at p. 14 (dissenting views). See also 148 Cong. Rec. H3481,
H3484 (daily ed. June 12, 2002)(remarks of Rep. Nadler).
17 148 Cong. Rec. H3473 (daily ed. June 12, 2002)(remarks of Rep. Frost).
18 146 Cong. Rec. H2143 (daily ed. Apr. 12, 2000)(remarks of Rep. Neal, of Massachusetts). It
has also been argued that the proposed amendment “dilutes the vote of Members ....” 147 Cong.
Rec. H1576 (daily ed. Apr. 25, 2001)(remarks of Rep. Jackson-Lee).
19 H.Rept. 107-43, supra note 2, at p. 57.
20 145 Cong. Rec. H2073 (daily ed. Apr. 15, 1999)(remarks of Rep. Conyers); id. at H2093
(remarks of Rep. Watt, of North Carolina). Critics claim that the use of “vague” terms (such asth
“de minimis” in H.J.Res. 96, 107 Cong.) would give rise to litigation.
21 Proponents have differed with opponents in regard to the meaning of the exception from the
two-thirds requirement for tax legislation that increases the internal revenue by only a de minimis
amount. Compare, e.g., letter of Apr. 7, 1997, from House Ways and Means Committee
Chairman Bill Archer to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (reprinted at 144
Cong. Rec. H2137-38 (daily ed. Apr. 22, 1998)) with remarks of Representative Scott (id. at
H2137). Proponents have also differed with opponents in regard to the meaning of the “internal
revenue laws” covered by the two-thirds requirement (compare H.Rept. 107-43, supra note 2, at
p. 3 with id. at pp. 49, 56 (dissenting views)) and in regard to the question of whether the two-
thirds requirement would apply only to bills increasing the internal revenue by more than a de
minimis amount or also to bills that decrease revenue or that are revenue neutral. Compare
H.Rept. 107-43, supra, at pp. 3, 8 with id at p. 53 (dissenting views).
22 Compare, e.g., 148 Cong. Rec. H3474 (daily ed. June 12, 2002)(remarks of Rep. Doggett) with
id. at H3476 (remarks of Rep. Barton, of Texas).
23 Compare H.Rept. 107-43, supra note 2, at p. 7 with id. at p. 57 (dissenting views) and with 147
Cong. Rec. H1577 (daily ed. Apr. 25, 2001)(remarks of Rep. Weiner).
an extraordinary majority for the most important governmental decisions (e.g., amending
the Constitution or impeaching the President) and that the “same high standard” should
be required to raise taxes.24 However, critics have contended that the Constitution
currently requires an extraordinary majority for “process issues” (e.g., amending the
Constitution or overriding a presidential veto) and that a two-thirds vote requirement
should not be extended to “policy determinations.”25
24 145 Cong. Rec. H2082 (daily ed. Apr. 15, 1999)(remarks of Rep. Hall, of Texas).
25 Id. at H2077 (remarks of Rep. Cardin).