MILLER: Democrats split over balanced budget

Fiscal restraint amendment is a wedge issue in the House

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House Democrats are divided. Their leaders are working hard to stop the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA), but not all members on the left are falling into line. The chances of this landmark constitutional amendment passing Friday depend on how many are willing to put their country’s interests before that of their party.

On Tuesday, Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Jim Costa of California and Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania signed up to whip Democratic votes in favor of a balanced budget.

Mr. DeFazio, who voted for the amendment in 1995, told The Washington Times in an interview that, if it had passed, “today we’d be paying off the last of the debt.” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican sponsor of the bill, welcomed the help. “There are many Democrats who are working hard on their side of the aisle to bring those votes about,” he said.

To reach the two-thirds threshold for passage of a constitutional amendment, united Republicans must pick up 48 Democrats. Mr. Altmire, a cosponsor of the BBA, told The Washington Times that he is targeting those who “voted for it in the 1990s - to get them to reconsider, if they are thinking of voting against it.”

The White House announced Tuesday that it “strongly opposes” the limitation on spending, but the statement has no teeth since President Obama can’t veto a constitutional amendment.

Democrats say the GOP’s decision to ditch a supermajority requirement to raise taxes created a breakthrough. “They are not approaching it on a partisan, political basis,” said Mr. DeFazio. “They are giving us an honest Balanced Budget Amendment, the same one that passed with bipartisan votes in 1995.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that the measure is “not likely” to get enough Democrats for passage - and he’s going to do what he can to make his prediction come true. The Maryland Democrat voted for the same BBA in 1995, but he will not support it now because Republicans are not willing to raise taxes to pay for big-government spending.

“If you want to have tax cuts, if you want to cut revenues, make sure that you have the guts to cut spending commensurate with those cuts in taxes,” he said. “If you don’t have that kind of courage, then don’t criticize others for saying we need to pay for things, and we don’t need an amendment to do it.”

Mr. Altmire is not deterred by Mr. Hoyer’s comments. “He’s the No. 2 person in the party and carries some weight, but we disagree on this point,” he said.

While not ideal, the measure before the House is a truly bipartisan shot at restoring sanity to our fiscal situation. With one vote, uncompromising Republicans and fence-sitting Democrats would really change Washington.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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