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House Rejects Balanced Budget Amendment by a Wide Margin

By Eric Pianin
The Washington Post

The House Thursday rejected a proposed constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget by the year 2001 after Democratic leaders and President Clinton warned it would put Congress in a fiscal straitjacket and jeopardize economic recovery and health-care reform.

The amendment, backed by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats, fell 12 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment. The final vote was 271 to 153, with 172 Republicans and 99 Democrats supporting the measure.

Proponents of a balanced-budget amendment had confidently boasted early this year that the time was ripe to adopt the measure, which has been debated, off and on, for decades.

However, their hopes were dashed early this month when Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., almost single-handedly beat proponents in a showdown vote in the Senate.

For a while, it appeared that the amendment still might pass in the House, even though, with the Senate action, the issue was moot for the year. But Democratic leaders, AFL-CIO lobbyists and the White House hammered away at it, fearing passage of the amendment might enhance its chances next year when proponents are likely to bring it up again.

Working on more-immediate fiscal issues Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee ignored admonitions by the administration and chairman Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., to "stay the course" and instead voted to reduce spending over the next five years by $26 billion more than is called for in Clinton's long-term deficit-reduction program.

The committee's 13-to-8 bipartisan approval of the additional cuts, proposed by Sens. J.J. Exon, D-Neb., and Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, caught the Democratic leadership and the White House by surprise.

The White House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., sought to discourage the cuts by warning that further reductions most likely would be made in the defense budget and agriculture programs. Both areas are major concerns of Exon, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee from a major farm state.