- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Congress’ latest attempt to change the Constitution to require a balanced federal budget has ended in a predictable and familiar way defeat.

The Senate on Wednesday roundly rejected a pair of balanced-budget amendments — one from each party — in a vote set forth in this past summer’s debt-reduction deal.

Senators voted down the Democratic plan 79-21, with only one Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada supporting the measure. The Republican version was defeated along a party-line vote of 53-47. The amendments needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and neither came close.

Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, said Congress missed a golden opportunity to help lower the nation’s $15 trillion debt.

“A responsible balanced-budget amendment would have given the Congress, and the American people, an ongoing framework for making the choices that need to be made to keep the country from a future of perpetual red ink,” said Mr. Cochran, who supported the GOP plan but voted against the Democratic version.

The Republican balanced-budget plan, sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, called for Congress to balance the federal budget each year, to cap spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product, and to require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to increase taxes and a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers to raise the debt limit.

A Democratic version crafted by Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, which also called for an annually balanced federal budget, would have prohibited Social Security funds from being used to balance the rest of the budget.

Mr. Udall’s measure also would have prevented Congress from providing income-tax breaks for those earning more than $1 million a year unless the budget was in surplus.

The White House opposed both plans, saying they would “duck” the government’s responsibility of tackling the nation’s fiscal challenges head-on.

“We do not need to amend the Constitution for only the 28th time in our nation’s history to do the job of restoring fiscal discipline,” said an Obama administration statement regarding each amendment plan. “Instead, we must as members of both parties have done in the past - move beyond politics as usual and find bipartisan common ground to restore us to a sustainable fiscal path.”

The White House was particularly opposed to the Republican plan, which it said would “would set a severe and unrealistic spending cap” that would result in “severe cuts” to programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

The highly publicized debt deal that Congress approved in early August mandated that each chamber vote on — though not necessarily pass a balanced-budget amendment by the end of the year.

The House last month rejected a Republican-crafted balanced-budget amendment proposal by a vote of 261-165 - falling far short of the two-thirds vote required.

This year’s balanced-budget amendment tallies show just how much the amendment movement has slipped down Capitol Hill’s list of priorities. In 1995, it received 300 votes in the House, while a Senate version that year was one vote shy of passing.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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