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Hopes dim for amendment to balance budget
Congress is ready to try again, but bipartisanship of ‘95 is lost
“I have learned and seen what the country has learned and seen. Since 1995, we saw that balancing the budget doesn’t require a constitutional amendment,” said Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey. “In the late ‘90s, we balanced the budget with a set of reasonable and fair judgments.”
He said budget challenges brought by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 make it tougher to accept “arbitrary restraints on our decision-making process.”
Five other lawmakers didn’t return repeated messages this week asking how they would vote. Among them were Mr. Clyburn, a member of the Democratic leadership, and Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat.
Democrats aren’t the only ones rethinking the amendment.
The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan budget watchdog group, endorsed the amendment in the 1990s, but not this time.
“I get a little bit frustrated with the whole balanced-budget amendment debate,” said Robert Bixby, the group’s executive director. “I just think the situation requires immediate attention to policy changes that would actually reduce the deficit rather than spending the next years debating amending the Constitution.”
During the earlier debate, one of the more vociferous lawmakers supporting the amendment was Mr. Biden, then a senator from Delaware.
He argued in a lengthy floor speech that the only way to preserve Democratic priorities was to balance the budget and stave off a crisis.
“We must send the balanced-budget amendment to the states — to the people of the United States — for their approval,” he said. “It is my belief that only when we have asserted control over our budget once again will we be able to conduct a meaningful debate on our real national priorities. Until then, the short-term, bottom-line calculations will continue to drive the budget process.”
Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to comment. But the White House weighed in Tuesday by issuing a scathing attack on the proposed amendment and saying that limiting spending now could trigger “a second Great Depression.”
Voting for the balanced budget amendment wasn’t a good career move for House Democrats in 1995. Of the 72 who did, just 11 are still in the House. But nearly half of the 129 who voted against it are still in the chamber.
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