1987 Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act


The Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act of 1987 (Public Law No: 100-119), also known as Gramm-Rudman-Hollings II, revised the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 after in Bowsher v. Synar (1986) the United States Supreme Court ruled portions of that law unconstitutional.


Under the original legislation passed in 1985, annual targets for reducing the deficit were codified. If those targets were not met, the legislation provided for automatic and across-the-board spending cuts to be made in order to ensure that the mandated deficit reductions were achieved. This process of automatic spending cuts was known as "sequestration." The way in which was sequestration was to work involved the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) providing an accounting of suggested cuts to the Comptroller General of the United States, who also serves at the director of the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO is an agency situated within the legislative branch, thus the ultimate authority for instituting the spending cuts would have rested with the legislative branch under the rules of the original law from 1985.

In Bowsher v. Synar (1986), the United States Supreme Court ruled the 1985 law unconstitutional on the basis that it violated the separation of powers. In particular, the court ruled, "The powers vested in the Comptroller General under" the law "violate the Constitution's command that Congress play no direct role in the execution of the laws." Moreover, "the Comptroller General has been improperly assigned executive powers... The Act's provisions give him, not the President, the ultimate authority in determining what budget cuts are to be made. By placing the responsibility for execution of the Act in the hands of an officer who is subject to removal only by itself, Congress, in effect, has retained control over the Act's execution, and has unconstitutionally intruded into the executive function."

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the Congress revisited the 1985 law and revised the sequestration procedures to bring the original law in line with the provisions of Bowsher v. Synar. The 1987 law, which was signed by President Reagan on September 29, 1987, moved sequestration authority from the office of the Comptroller General to the White House OMB, thus assigning the power to execute the law to the executive branch. The 1987 law also increased the public debt limit and the delayed by two years the deadline for passing a balanced budget. This law itself would be superseded by the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990.


Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act of 1987 (Public Law No: 100-119). Bill Summary and Status:|TOM:/bss/d100query.html

Bowsher v. Synar (No. 85-1377) 626 F.Supp. 1374, affirmed.

Jim Sasser, Chairman, Committee of the Budget. The Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act of 1987: A Legislative History, volumes 1 and 2. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993.

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