The measure, which is nearly identical to a balanced budget amendment that passed the House in January 1995, received 261 “yes” votes and 165 “no” votes.
Only 25 Democrats joined most Republicans in voting in favor of the amendment, which would need to secure two-thirds in the Senate as well as be ratified by three-quarters of the states in order to take effect.
The level of Democratic support fell far below the 72 House Democrats who voted in favor of the balanced budget amendment 16 years ago. Most of the Democrats voting “yes” on Friday were members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition.
Four Republicans – Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Justin Amash (Mich.) and David Dreier (Calif.) – also voted “no” on Friday. Ryan’s office explained that the Wisconsin Republican was concerned that the version of the BBA on the floor would have led to larger government; Dreier explained in floor remarks on Thursday that while he had supported the 1995 measure, he had since come to believe that Congress did not need to amend the Constitution in order to balance the budget.
Friday’s vote marked the first time in 16 years that the House voted on a balanced budget amendment. The vote was called for by August’s debt-ceiling legislation; the Senate must hold its own balanced budget vote before late December.
That the measure fell short marks a defeat for House Republicans, who had opted for a more-moderate version of the measure in the hope of securing support from Democrats.
But in a heated floor debate Thursday and Friday, Democrats voiced strong opposition, arguing that it would lead to the dismantling of cherished entitlement programs.
“It’s unbalanced, unneeded and will undermine our struggling economy,” Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said. “The Republicans want us to mangle the Constitution because they cannot manage this institution. This amendment is a means to an end. It’s a means for Republicans to end Medicare, to end Social Security and Medicaid, to end every anti-poverty program.”
“And why?” Markey added. “Because they harbor an ancient animosity toward all of those programs, and their plan is to leave them as debt-soaked relics of an era where we actually cared about poor people, the elderly in our country.”
Republicans strongly defended the measure, and several members called Friday’s vote one of historic importance. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) on the floor described it as “the most important vote that I will have cast in nine years.”
“We have proven that we do not have the discipline to balance the budget of this country. ... This is an opportunity for us not only to show that fiscal responsibility that the 75 percent of the country want us to show, but also that they want us to show that spirit of bipartisanship: break the gridlock,” Gingrey said.