Balanced Budget Amendment Appears Headed for DefeatBy Karen Hosler
The Baltimore Sun
This year's version of the balanced budget amendment appears headed for defeat in the Senate Tuesday night, with many senators likely to back a less-stringent alternative that is given an even smaller chance of winning the necessary two-thirds majority.
Concluding a week of debate on the topic, the Senate's rejection of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget would doom action on the issue for the rest of the year. Although the House may vote later this month to endorse the amendment, Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, a Maine Democrat, said Monday that there would not be a second vote in the Senate.
Supporters of the amendment, led by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., were not ready to concede defeat. But they acknowledged they were at least four votes short of the 67 required, without much hope of picking up all four of the senators still undecided.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who has been passionately leading a crusade against the Simon amendment, said the vote would be "very close," but that the momentum is going his way.
"This amendment is very popular because a lot of people don't understand it, but it is very dangerous to the fabric of our country," Byrd said in an interview.
The balanced budget amendment failed by one vote in the Senate in 1986, the last time it was voted on.
When the Senate debate opened last week, Simon had more than 50 co-sponsors and an additional dozen or so private commitments.
Neither the Simon amendment nor the Reid amendment could take effect until three-fifths of the state legislatures vote to ratify them. The chief distinction between the two approaches lies with the number of exceptions that would be allowed.
Under the Simon amendment, a three-fifths majority of each house of Congress would have to approve spending in excess of income, except in a national emergency. The Reid amendment would bar the diverting of Social Security tax revenue to balance the budget, would permit deficit spending in periods of slow economic growth and would allow Congress to borrow money for highways and other "capital" investments.