Senate rejects 2 balanced budget amendments, including one by Se. Orrin Hatch

By Jim Abrams

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14 2011 5:00 p.m. MST

The US Capitol Building as seen on Saturday, Nov., 19, 2011. The Senate on Wednesday voted against changing the Constitution to require a balanced budget.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday voted against changing the Constitution to require a balanced budget as Congress hit yet another dead end in its search for a way out of its fiscal morass.

Two proposals for balanced budget amendments were doomed by the partisanship that dominates Congress. All but one Republican voted against a Democratic measure, and every Democrat opposed the GOP-backed version. Amendments to the Constitution must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of state legislatures.

With the votes, Congress fulfilled a commitment to take up balanced budget amendments that were part of the agreement last summer to raise the government's debt limit in exchange for $2 trillion in future spending cuts.

"Today, we lost. We knew we were going to lose. But it had to be done," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the bill's primary sponsor. "We're going to keep fighting until we get some constraints on spending in this country and in the Congress in particular."

Hatch said the only encouraging thing about the vote was that all 47 Republican senators were on board for the first time.

The House held its vote last month, falling 23 votes short of reaching the two-thirds majority.

Last month also marked the failure of the supercommittee, another product of the debt limit agreement, to come up with a course of action for making inroads into $1 trillion-a-year deficits and a national debt that has topped $15 billion.

Other efforts this year to "go big" on deficit reduction, including talks between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner and a bipartisan commission led by former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, also proved futile.

The inability of the 12-member bipartisan supercommittee to come up with a long-term deficit cutting plan reinforced the argument that only a balanced budget amendment could save Congress from its overspending habits.

"It's pathetic," Hatch said. "Washington here, this godforsaken town, has proven it will not solve this crisis on its own."

Hatch said spending will never be under control without a constitutional amendment.

"The only way that Congress will exercise the discipline to balance the budget is if the Constitution forces it to do so," said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he was shocked that 60 percent of Democrats supported neither proposal.

"It sends a strong signal that the majority of Democrats in the Senate do not view Congress’s out-of-control spending to be a problem, and the American public should be appalled," he said. "Despite all the warnings from economists and experts on both sides that we are headed for a fiscal meltdown if we don’t control spending, the majority of Democrats in Congress are content to do nothing about it and choose instead to fight political battles aimed at the next election."

Opponents, led by Democrats and including the White House, said a balanced budget requirement could lead to drastic cuts to social programs when a poor economy reduces federal revenues and that Congress could end up ceding budget decisions to unelected federal judges if lawmakers can't agree over how to reach balance.

"I believe it would be a profound mistake for this country," said Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. "I believe adopting this amendment would have and could have disastrous consequences for the economy and for the future strength of this nation."

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