Senate rejects 2 balanced budget amendments, including one by Se. Orrin Hatch
Democrats were particularly critical of the Republican plan that required a two-thirds majority of both chambers to raise taxes, three-fifths to raise the national debt, and stated that spending for any budget year could not exceed 18 percent of gross domestic product. Senate Budget Committee Democrats said federal spending hasn't fallen below 18 percent of GDP since 1966.
Hatch replied that "the votes we cast today will tell the American people whether we honestly acknowledge the fiscal crisis posed by a $15 trillion national debt and whether we are serious" about finding a cure. Congress "will not kick its overspending addiction alone," he said. "Congress needs some help, and the Constitution is the way to get that help."
The vote for the Hatch proposal was strictly along party lines, with 53 Democrats opposing it and 47 Republicans in support.
The vote for the Democratic measure, sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., was more lopsided, with only 20 Democrats and one Republican, Dean Heller of Nevada, voting for it.
Udall said he hoped his proposal would raise awareness among his colleagues "about the very serious consequences of government spending without accountability."
Udall's approach differed from Hatch's in that it had no caps on spending, did not require a supermajority to raise taxes, prohibited Social Security funds from being used to balance the rest of the budget and barred millionaires from getting tax cuts unless the budget was in surplus. Both provided for waivers in times of war and national emergencies.
While the president does not have a role in advancing constitutional amendments, the White House issued statements opposing both proposals. It said that instead of amending the Constitution, members of both parties should "move beyond politics as usual and find bipartisan common ground to restore us to a sustainable fiscal path." It also warned that an amendment could also result in the hard decisions lawmakers should be making being handed to the federal courts.
The Senate came within one vote of approving a balanced budget twice in the 1990s, but it hasn't taken up the issue since the last vote in 1997.
Including the Bill of Rights, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times, the last time in 1992 with an amendment concerning congressional pay increases.
Forty-nine states — all but Vermont — have some form of balanced budget requirement. These generally apply only to operating budgets, allowing states to borrow for long-term capital investments. Cuts to the federal spending resulting from a balanced budget mandate could reduce federal grants to the states, making it harder for them to meet their budget goals.
The federal government has balanced its budget only six times in the past half-century, four times during Bill Clinton's presidency.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy, Deseret News
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