Here’s another way to look at the defeat of the Balanced Budget Amendment in the House this afternoon. Progressives often think that Dems always cower in fear or cave to Republicans in the face of GOP attacks painting them as Big Spending Liberals, but here’s a case where Dems stood their ground and did the right thing.

The failed vote shows that a lot has changed since 1995, the last time such a vote was held. The current crop of Democrats is much more willing to oppose GOP initiatives than they were then.

Today, the measure didn’t even come close, drawing only 265 votes when two thirds are needed (290 if all 435 had voted) to pass a Constitutional amendment But back in 1995, a Balance Budget Amendment did pass in the House, and fairly easily. (It failed in the Senate.) There were only 230 Republicans in the House that year, 12 fewer than there are now. Not surprisingly, almost all of them voted for the amendment. What’s really changed, however, is what’s happening on the Democratic side. In 1995, 72 of the 202 Democrats who voted crossed over and voted for the BBA. That’s quite a few, and it means that it wasn’t just conservative and Blue Dog Democrats; quite a few mainstream or even liberal Dems thought it was worth supporting for substantive or political reasons. Today, however, only 25 Democrats crossed lines to support the amendment, while four Republicans voted against it.

In part, today’s vote demonstrated that partisanship has become stronger in the last decade. In part, it showed the difference between the Democrats’ panicked reactions to the 1994 elections and the much more measured reaction to the 2010 GOP landslide. Democrats in the winter of 1994-1995 really were worried that a new GOP era had dawned and that massive policy defeats and further electoral defeats were inevitable (and note that the BBA vote was in January, when that reaction was still in full swing). I haven’t sensed any similar mood among Democrats this time around.

For liberals who have become convinced that Dems always cave, it’s worth noting that here’s a case where Democrats really did give in to a foolish idea 16 years ago, but successfully resisted it now.