Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

Preamble of Constitution
There have been more than 10,000 proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Dan Thornberg / EyeEm / Getty Images

Any member of Congress or state legislature can propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Since 1787, more than 10,000 amendments have been proposed. These proposals range from banning the desecration of the American flag to balancing the federal budget to altering the Electoral College.

Members of Congress propose an average of nearly 40 constitutional amendments every year. However, most amendments are never ratified or even passed by the House or Senate.

In fact, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times in history. The last time a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified was 1992, when the 27th Amendment preventing Congress from giving itself immediate pay raises was cleared by the states. The process of amending the Constitution in this particular case took more than two centuries, illustrating the difficulty and reluctance among elected officials and the public to changing a document that is so revered and cherished.

For an amendment to be considered, it must receive a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate or be called for at a constitutional convention voted on by two-thirds of state legislatures. Once an amendment is proposed, it must be ratified by at least three-fourths of the states to be added to the constitution.

Many proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution fail to catch on, even those that appeared to have the support of the most powerful elected official in the land: the president of the United States.

President Donald Trump, for example, has expressed support for both a constitutional ban on flag-burning and on term limits for members of the House and Senate. (The Founding Fathers rejected the idea of imposing term limits when writing the U.S. Constitution.)

Commonly Proposed Constitutional Amendments

The overwhelming majority of proposed constitutional amendments deal with the same few topics: the federal budget, freedom of speech, and term limits.

However, none of the following amendments have gained much traction in Congress.

Balanced budget: Among the most contentious proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution is the balanced-budget amendment. The idea of preventing the federal government from spending more than it generates in revenue from taxes in any fiscal year has drawn support from some conservatives. Most notably, it won backing from President Ronald Reagan, who vowed in 1982 to do all he could to get Congress to pass the amendment.

Speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in July 1982, Reagan said:

"We must not, and we will not, permit prospects for lasting economic recovery to be buried beneath an endless tide of red ink. Americans understand that the discipline of a balanced-budget amendment is essential to stop squandering and overtaxing. And they're saying the time to pass the amendment is now." 

The balanced-budget amendment is the single most commonly proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of legislation. Over the course of two decades, members of the House and Senate introduced 134 such proposed amendments — none of which went beyond Congress. 

Flag-burning: In 1989, President George H.W.

Bush announced his support for a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have banned the desecration of the American flag. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech protected the activity.

Said Bush:

"I believe that the flag of the United States should never be the object of desecration. Protection of the flag, a unique national symbol, will in no way limit the opportunity nor the breadth of protest available in the exercise of free speech rights. ... Flag burning is wrong. As President, I will uphold our precious right to dissent, but burning the flag goes too far and I want to see that matter remedied."

Term limits: The Founding Fathers rejected the idea of congressional term limits. Supporters of a congressional term limit amendment argue that it will limit the possibility for corruption and bring fresh ideas into the Capitol.

On the other hand, critics of the idea argue that there is value in the experience gained when congressional leaders serve multiple terms.   

Example Proposals 

Among the most recent proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution are:

  • Repealing the 16th Amendment. The 16th amendment created the income tax in 1913. Representative Steve King of Iowa proposed a repeal of this amendment in order to eliminate the income tax and ultimately replace it with a different tax system. Rep. King stated: “The federal government has the first lien on all productivity in America. Ronald Reagan once said, ‘What you tax you get less of.’ Right now we tax all productivity. We need to turn that completely around and put the tax on consumption. That is why we need to repeal the 16th Amendment which authorizes the income tax. Replacing the current income tax with a consumption tax will ensure that productivity is not punished in our country, but rewarded.”
  • Requiring a two-thirds vote of from each house of Congress to increase the statutory limit on the public debt, from Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas. The United States debt ceiling is the maximum amount of money that the federal government is allowed to borrow to meet its existing legal financial obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments. The U.S. Congress sets the debt limit and only Congress can raise it.
  • Stating that the Constitution neither prohibits voluntary prayer nor requires prayer in schools, from Rep. Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia. The proposed amendment states that the constitution will not be "construed to prohibit voluntary prayer or require prayer in school." 
  • Overturning Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that the federal government cannot limit corporations from spending money to influence the outcome of elections, from Rep. Theodore Deutch of Florida. 
  • Limit the power of Congress to impose a tax on a failure to purchase goods or services, from Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi. This proposed amendment seeks to undo the federal mandate that Americans carry health insurance, as spelled out by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama. 
  • Ending the practice of including more than one subject in a single law by requiring that each law enacted by Congress be limited to only one subject and that the subject be clearly and descriptively expressed in the title of the law, from Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania.

  • Giving states the right to repeal federal laws and regulations when ratified by the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, from Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah. Bishop argues that this proposed amendment would add an additional system of checks and balances between state and federal governments. "The founding fathers crafted the Constitution to include the concept of checks and balances. 

​Proposed Amendments Key Takeaways

  • Since 1787, more than 10,000 constitutional amendments have been proposed by members of Congress and state legislatures. 
  • Most proposed amendments are never ratified. 
  • Some of the most commonly proposed amendments relate to the federal budget, the freedom of speech, and congressional term limits. 

    Sources and Further Reading

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    Murse, Tom. "Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution." ThoughtCo, May. 14, 2018, thoughtco.com/proposed-amendments-4164385. Murse, Tom. (2018, May 14). Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/proposed-amendments-4164385 Murse, Tom. "Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/proposed-amendments-4164385 (accessed May 24, 2018).