The GOP-controlled House failed by 23 votes on Friday to muster the required two-thirds majority to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, a legislative exercise agreed upon by both parties this summer in the deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling and created the deficit super committee.
Bipartisan support for the amendment was verified in the 261 to 165 tally.
But it faced a steep, uphill climb to get the two-thirds support needed to pass. Republicans depicted the amendment as a way to force Congress to live within its means by ensuring total federal spending each year does not exceed total revenues. (Its limitations could be waived in the event of war.) Democratic leaders actively opposed it, arguing it could lead to sharp cuts in domestic spending based on House Republican budget priorities.
In this highly charged partisan atmosphere, achieving the 284 votes needed for passage was a difficult road. The House has 242 Republicans and 192 Democrats, with one vacancy -- but eight members did not vote. Even if all 240 House Republicans who did vote had supported the measure, passage would have required 46 Democratic votes. In the end, only 25 Democrats backed the measure, and four Republicans voted against it.
Republicans in opposition were House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. GOP presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, was among those not voting.
Still, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., placed the blame for the measure’s defeat squarely on Democrats.
“It’s unfortunate that Democrats still don’t recognize the urgency of stopping Washington’s job-crushing spending binge,” said Boehner. Cantor said, “The House had an opportunity to put an end to Washington’s out-of-control spending, and it is unfortunate that Democrats who supported this measure in the past chose not to today.”
The vote came as the 12-member special Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is itself struggling to make its Wednesday deadline to agree on a plan for at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. The national debt hit the $15 trillion mark this week.
For an amendment to become part of the Constitution, it would also have to pass with a two-thirds vote in the Democratic-led Senate (67 votes), where chances of that are seen as slim. Three-quarters of the states would then have to ratify it.
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the House measure contained essentially the same language as one passed in the House in 1995, with 72 Democrats on board, when Republicans controlled the chamber. A more conservative version pushed by some in the House GOP this summer would have required a super-majority in order to raise taxes and would have capped spending eventually at 18 percent, but was set aside as having less of a chance of attracting the Democratic votes needed for passage.
“Fifty years with (just) 16 balanced budgets” has led to a $15 trillion deficit, Goodlatte said on the House floor.
The focus on a balanced-budget amendment is not completely concluded. This summer’s Budget Control Act requires votes in both chambers of Congress on a balanced-budget amendment no later than Dec. 31. The Senate is expected to vote on a version in December.