Balanced budget amendment fails in the House

CBS/AP

CBS/AP

House Democrats on Friday managed to block a constitutional amendment requiring the federal budget to be balanced, thwarting a key Republican goal.

The measure failed to win the two-thirds support necessary to pass, with 261 voting in favor of it and 165 voting against it. Four Republicans voted against the measure, and 25 Democrats voted for it.

Republicans argue a balanced budget amendment will help reduce the national debt, but Democrats said the measure could have disastrous economic consequences.

"The House had an opportunity to put an end to Washington's out-of-control spending, and it is unfortunate that Democrats who supported this measure in the past chose not to today," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a statement after the vote. "The uncertainty caused by our nation's $15 trillion debt is burdening families and businesses and adding to economic uncertainty."

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer came out forcefully against the measure, even though he voted for a balanced budget amendment in 1995. The amendment would have required a three-fifths vote to allow spending to exceed revenues, and Hoyer said this week that he doubted Republicans would support extra spending, even in a time of crisis.

The recent behavior of the Republican party, Hoyer said Thursday, has left him with "no confidence that in time of danger and crisis that we could summon [a] three-fifths vote."

"I believed in 1995 we could summon those votes because, frankly, we were a much more bipartisan and, in my opinion, responsible body," he continued, "but I do not have that confidence today, and I am not prepared to take that risk.

Some conservative Republicans believed the amendment did not go far enough, since it did not require a three-fifths vote in Congress to raise taxes -- leaving open the prospect that Congress would raise taxes rather than cut spending in order to balance the budget.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin voted against the amendment and said he could not support the amendment without a spending limit, the Washington Examiner reports: "I'm concerned that this version will lead to a much bigger government fueled by more taxes," he said.

Liberals are pointing out that Ryan's 2012 budget proposal wouldn't balance the budget for decades. Ryan's own projections show his plan would run deficits until the year 2063.

House leaders chose to go with the more moderate version of the amendment hoping to win the support of moderate Democrats.

Though more than two dozen Democrats did support the amendment, many -- including President Obama's re-election campaign -- complained that it could lead to draconian spending cuts.

Mr. Obama's campaign said it would "require deep spending cuts that could jeopardize everything from education and Medicare to nutrition and health programs for at-risk children."

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier of California was another one of the four Republicans to vote against the amendment. He said on the House floor on Thursday that Congress' ability to balance the budget in the 1990's demonstrated "we were able to balance the federal budget without touching that inspired document the U.S. Constitution."

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