When the House in 1995 voted on a constitutional amendment requiring the federal budget to be balanced, the measure won strong, bipartisan support. The measure died in the Senate, and the House is slated to vote on a balanced budget amendment again Friday.
This time, however, the debate is eliciting partisan sniping from both sides of the aisle, and it's unclear whether it will pass the GOP-led House.
Voicing support for the amendment on the House floor today, Republicans slammed President Obama's stewardship of the economy, noting the national debt has. Republican Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas said Congress must get its debt under control in order "to prevent another big, fat Greek catastrophe."
Democrats, in turn, railed against Republicans for taking up what they say is a job-destroying, poorly thought-out amendment.
Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott called the vote "another triumph of the Republican public relations office," since it gave the perception that the Republican House is busy at work, even though the amendment has no chance of making it into the Constitution. "Instead of wasting the people's time with this doomed and irresponsible amendment, we should deal with the country's serious economic concerns," he said.
The House is taking up the amendment this week because Congress agreed to consider it as part of the deal reached earlier this year to raise the debt ceiling. The amendment the House is voting on would require a three-fifths vote to allow spending to exceed revenues and would require a three-fifths vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Some conservatives are upset that the amendment does not require a three-fifths vote in Congress to raise taxes. Though Tea Party-backed Republicans wanted that requirement in the measure, House leaders kept it out with the aim of winning the support of moderate Democrats.
The conservative-Democrat Blue Dog Coalition, 25 members strong, has endorsed the amendment. However, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer has come out forcefully against it -- even though he voted for the balanced budget amendment in 1995.
Hoyer said Tuesday that he could no longer support the amendment because, "Unfortunately, I did not contemplate the irresponsibility that I've seen fiscally over the last nine years or eight years of the Bush Administration and the Republican leadership of the House or the Senate. And this last few months of where Republicans took America to the brink of default."
The GOP's behavior in recent years, Hoyer said in a statement today, suggests Congress may not be able to get the three-fifths vote needed to approve funds to respond to a crisis -- a risk too big for Hoyer to take.
President Obama's re-election campaign is also railing against the amendment, charging that it would "require deep spending cuts that could jeopardize everything from education and Medicare to nutrition and health programs for at-risk children."
The Obama team points out that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney also supports a balanced budget amendment. But like the Tea Party conservatives in the House, Romney has backed the version that would require a super-majority to raise taxes. Without that requirement, Congress could just as easily raise taxes to balance the budget as they could make spending cuts.
Even if the House manages to get the two-thirds support necessary to pass the amendment, it would still have to pass by a two-thirds vote in the Senate and would have to be ratified by at least 38 states -- an unlikely prospect.