House votes down balanced budget amendment

The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, D.C. on August 2, 2011. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, D.C. on August 2, 2011. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives failed Friday to approve a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution sought by the Republican majority.

The vote was 261-165 for the amendment, a majority but short of the 290 votes needed to amend the Constitution, The Hill reported.


The amendment was supported by 236 Republicans and 25 Democrats, while four Republicans and 161 Democrats opposed it.

While a similar bill cleared the House with bipartisan support in 1995, most Democrats came out against the bill this time around, with many pointing to the late 1990s as evidence a constitutional requirement isn't necessary to balance the budget.

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"[Without] having passed a balanced budget amendment, we did in fact balance the budget four years in a row," Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said during debate Thursday. "Why? Because we paid for what we bought, we didn't cut revenues before we cut spending, and we restrained spending four years in a row."

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., offered a similar reason for voting against the bill Friday.

"What I found … is that we were able to balance the federal budget without touching that inspired document, the U.S. Constitution," Dreier said.

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The other Republicans voting against it were House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

The Hill said the four GOP no votes likely were a signal that some Republicans were unhappy that the leadership chose the more broadly supported amendment that would not require a supermajority in Congress to raise taxes to balance the budget.

"Spending is the problem, yet this version of the BBA [balanced budget amendment] makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow, and economic freedom will be diminished," Ryan said. "Without a limit on government spending, I cannot support this amendment."

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The House vote came the same week the national debt was reported to have topped the $15 trillion mark. The federal deficit in fiscal 2011, which ended Sept. 30, was $1.3 trillion, slightly below fiscal year 2010's record $1.7 trillion figure.

When the balanced budget amendment went before Congress in March 1995, it passed the House 300-132, but fell one vote short in the Senate.

Balanced budget provisions have been added to most U.S. state constitutions, as well as the constitutions of Germany, Estonia and Switzerland.

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