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Posted at 02:15 PM ET, 12/14/2011

Balanced-budget amendments fall short in Senate

The Senate rejected two competing versions of a balanced-budget amendment on Wednesday, sending the proposals to defeat 14 years after the chamber fell one vote short of passing such a measure.

A Democratic plan by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) garnered only
Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch sponsored a Republican version of a balanced-budget amendment. (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)
21 “yes” votes, all from the Democratic side of the aisle. Seventy-nine Democrats and Republicans voted “no.”

A more conservative amendment proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) won the backing of all Senate Republicans but got no Democratic support. It failed by 47 to 53.

To take effect, both measures would have needed a two-thirds majority for approval in both the Senate and House and would have had to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

A month ago, the House rejected a GOP balanced-budget amendment. On that measure, 25 Democrats joined most Republicans to vote “yes,” far fewer than the 72 Democrats who backed a similar version of the amendment that passed the House in January 1995.

The House and Senate votes were required as part of the August debt-ceiling deal. Conservatives made a balanced-budget amendment a top priority throughout much of the summer debt negotiations. But by fall, efforts to win approval for the measure became overshadowed by the debate over job creation and the work of the bipartisan debt supercommittee.

Both Senate measures would have required a balanced-budget for each fiscal year.

Hatch’s measure merged his own proposal with one by fellow Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who has pushed for a balanced-budget amendment. It would cap spending at 18 percent of GDP and mandate that any tax increase receive a two-thirds majority in both chambers for passage. Democrats argued that the provision would hamstring Congress in times of crisis. Hatch’s bill also would require a two-thirds vote before the government could run a deficit in a particular year, and any effort to raise the debt ceiling would need to be approved by a three-fifths vote in both chambers.

Udall’s version of the amendment was aimed at winning the backing of Democrats: One provision would shield Social Security from balanced-budget requirements and another would mandate that Congress may not approve tax cuts for the wealthy when the budget is not in surplus. Republicans argued that Udall’s measure was not strong enough and could lead to tax increases.

The main piece of unfinished congressional business from the summer debt deal is the $1.2 trillion “sequester,” an across-the-board cut to defense and non-defense spending. The cut will take effect in January 2013 unless Congress votes to re-work it, and on Wednesday several GOP senators said they were planning to unveil their recommendations on dealing with the sequester.

By  |  02:15 PM ET, 12/14/2011

 
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