Amendment loses, Congress turns to real task of balancing budget
Mar. 05, 1997
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The one-vote defeat of the balanced-budget amendment in the Senate shifted attention to congressional and White House attempts to come up with a real balanced budget by 2002.
Both sides say they want that, and each is already accusing the other of political deceit.
The demise of the constitutional amendment Tuesday for the third time in three years appeared to erode what's left of the bipartisan spirit that heralded the start of this Congress.
Republicans said President Clinton's plan to balance the budget by 2002 was based on false premises and demanded he rewrite it. Democrats said it was inexcusable for Republicans to ask Clinton to rewrite his budget when they haven't produced their own.
The White House said Republicans shouldn't complain until they draft a balanced-budget plan. ``If they don't like our budget, they ought to have the decency to produce one of their own,'' press secretary Mike McCurry said today.
House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt today sent a letter to Speaker Newt Gingrich urging immediate action on the fiscal 1998 budget to avoid a repeat of last winter's government shutdown. ``The House is sliding into irrelevance in this community and in the government,'' he told reporters.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, frustrated again in his longtime quest for a balanced budget amendment, attacked Clinton for opposing the amendment while displaying a ``lack of fiscal integrity'' in his own plan.
``What kind of a fool does he think we are?'' Hatch asked.
Clinton said he was pleased with the amendment's defeat but added, ``At the same time, let me be clear: While I oppose a constitutional amendment, I am committed to achieving the bipartisan goal of balancing the budget by 2002.''
The vote on the balanced budget amendment was 66-34, one short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution. That was identical to the vote in 1995, when a single Republican, then-Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon, voted against it. Last year the vote was 64-34.
This time, with all 100 senators taking their seats in the Senate chamber to show the gravity of the vote, all 55 Republicans and 11 of the 45 Democrats supported the amendment.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said the House, which passed the measure in 1995, would take it up this year, but set no date. ``We will regroup the effort and determine the best time and place to move forward,'' he said.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., predicted the House would pass the measure in the next month or two, and the Senate would then consider taking it up again. ``This is an issue that will not go away,'' he said.
House action this year stalled when some Republicans joined Democrats in voicing concerns that Social Security recipients could lose benefits unless the Social Security trust fund was removed from general budget calculations.
Hatch, the chief GOP sponsor, accused Democrats of ``sheer unmitigated demagoguery'' for telling senior citizens that their Social Security checks would be at risk.
Despite the narrow margin, there was little suspense: All 100 senators had announced their decisions by last week, when the last undeclared lawmaker, freshman Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., said he would vote against it.
Several Democrats said they wanted a constitutional amendment but opposed the Republican version because they said it left Social Security vulnerable to future budget cutters and set too high a barrier for waiving the balanced budget requirement in times of recession or war.
The defeated GOP-crafted version states that a three-fifths majority in both houses is needed to allow a deficit in any year after 2002, and has a national security exemption only in times of war.
``Until we take Social Security off the table it is very unlikely an amendment will ever pass,'' said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Republicans, wounded by the defeat of their major agenda item, took the offensive, citing estimates by congressional budget analysts that Clinton's budget plan would still leave the federal government $69 billion in debt in 2002.
Armey joined GOP budget chairmen in demanding that Clinton submit a new budget. Daschle responded by holding two news conferences to blast Republicans for failing to produce their own budget.
``I think that it's inexcusable for them to be so audacious to ask the president to come and deliver yet another budget when they have yet to provide the first one,'' he said.
But Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said that since Clinton worked to defeat the constitutional amendment, ``the onus is on his back to produce a balanced budget that works and is real.''
Democrats say the Clinton budget will balance because it is based on more accurate estimates than those provided by congressional experts and it contains mechanisms to terminate tax cuts if budgetary projections change.