Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., deserted by his Democratic Party, today lost the home-state round of his fight for a U.S. constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.
In a reverse party-line vote, in which Brown gained the support of every Republican and lost every Democrat except one, a state legislative committee killed a series of resolutions that would have called upon Congress to approve the amendment and require a constitutional convention if Congress failed to act.
The Democratic opposition, led by liberal Assembly Speaker Leo T. McCarthy of San Francisco, viewed the action as a clear rebuke to what is seen as Brown's intention to run for president on the issue of a balanced federal budget.
The Assembly Ways and Means Committee, with one dissent, passed a rival McCarthy-backed resolution calling on Congress to approve a balanced budget amendment, but making no mention of a constitutional convention. Republicans voted for this plan, too, but scoffed at the resolution as meaningless.
"A resolution without a constitutional convention has all the moral force of a talk on the joys of marriage by Michelle Marvin," Senate Republican Leader William Campbell told the committee.
Brown, who had been anticipating the defeat, responded to it with characteristic optimism. He predicted that national momentum would continue to build for the amendment.
"This is not the end, it's just the beginning of a very long and intensive educational program here in California and elsewhere to bring some fiscal responsibility to the country and eliminate the fiscal excesses that are creating inflation and causing widespread lack of public confidence," Brown said.
The Brown forces were cheered by the news that Indiana this week became the 29th state to approve the amendment resolution, although there is some question whether all the resolutions meet technical requirements. If they do, Congress would be forced to act or call the convention after the approval of the resolution by 34 states.
While conceding that the action today was detrimental to Brown and his political ambitions, the governor's strategists say they believe that the issue will become politically irresistible outside California's borders.
Whatever happens elsewhere, the resolution appears dead beyond hopes of resurrection in California. A maneuver to keep the proposal alive in committee after it had been defeated, subject to a furture vote, was rejected by the anti-Brown Democratic majority.
There are three main reasons why Brown was so badly defeated by his own party today.
First is the distrust of Brown by Speaker McCarthy, who intends to run for governor in 1982. If Brown should become president, this would make the untried and photogenic Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Curb governor, and give him a presumed advantage over McCarthy.
Many Democratic liberals also oppose the amendment on principal, both because they fear that a constitutional convention could not be limited to a single issue and because some of them question the wisdom of a balanced federal budget.
Finally, Democratic legislators of all persuasions have been resentful of Brown, who, they think, shows disdain for the legislature and is unconcerned about their personal or partisan needs.
Intense lobbying preceded the vote today, most of it directed at four supposedly wavering Democratic legislators. At Brown's behest some of them were called by major industrial or agricultural representatives in their district urging them to vote for the resolution.