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U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, has his picture taken with fifth-grade students at Carver Elementary School on Monday, April 30, 2012, in Dubuque, Iowa. (AP Photo/Telegraph Herald, Jessica Reilly)

Contributed photo

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, said Wednesday he is signing on to a Republican-authored plan to amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget.

The announcement is a departure for the Waterloo Democrat, who previously resisted such efforts. On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, however, he said that a Michigan Republican’s plan that would peg federal spending to the average of the previous three years of revenue is one he will co-sponsor.

The plan would make allowances for inflation and population growth. It also could be waived in emergencies by a two-thirds vote of Congress.

“I’m now convinced it’s the only viable way we could get something meaningful done,” Braley said. “Until we put in place some reforms and changes that force Congress to confront the reality of its obligations under the Constitution, we’re just going to see more of the same.”

The national debt is an increasing concern. At $15.6 trillion, the size of the debt is has raised alarm bells for many economists.

Republicans have blamed increased spending for the debt, saying that outlays under the Obama administration went as high as 25 percent of the economy, its highest level since the late 1940s. But Democrats say the economic collapse, spending on two wars and the Bush-era tax cuts have driven the debt, noting that at about 15 percent of the economy, revenues are at their lowest levels since 1950.

Braley threw his support to the measure authored by Rep. Justin Amash, a freshman Republican from Michigan. The plan would phase in over 10 years, and it has gained a measure of bipartisan support. Fifty-five lawmakers have signed on, Braley’s office said. One of them is Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who was an original co-sponsor.

Some conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth, have urged the House Republican leadership to pass it, noting its bipartisan appeal. But some liberal groups have panned the measure, saying it would lock in lower spending.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a fiscal think tank, says that had it been in place in 2012, the existing federal budget would have had to be $1.3 trillion smaller, a situation it said would have meant drastic spending cuts to domestic programs if politically popular entitlements had been left off the table.

Braley called the estimate a “mischaracterization” that doesn’t take into account the Amash amendment’s gradual approach.

The amendment was introduced last year but hasn’t cleared the committee process yet. Once a proposed amendment is approved by Congress, where it must get a two-thirds majority, it has to be ratified by three-quarters, or 38, of the 50 states.