Balanced-Budget Constitutional Amendment Proposal Fails in House

(Bloomberg) -- A Republican proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced federal budget failed in the House on Thursday when it fell short of the required two-thirds vote.

The vote was 233-184. Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team brought the proposal to the floor despite its long odds following pressure from fiscal conservatives after Congress passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill last month. Congress also enacted a GOP tax cut in December that is estimated to add $1.9 trillion to the deficit by 2028.

Amendment sponsor Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Congress has shown it can’t sustain fiscal discipline over time.

“Congress must have the pressure of a balanced budget amendment to force it to do so,” Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said on the House floor.

Seven Democrats joined 226 Republicans in backing the amendment, while six Republicans and 178 Democrats voted no.

The measure was criticized by Democrats as an election-year political stunt that, if enacted, would have required cuts in Medicare to pay for the corporate tax cuts enacted in December. Senate GOP leaders have indicated they won’t write a budget resolution laying out a fiscal strategy this year, and the House has yet to announce a timeline for doing one.

"The American people deserve a Congress that is focused squarely on helping the middle class, not patronizing Kabuki theater-like sham ‘balanced budget’ votes from Republicans who blew up the deficit to benefit wealthy special interests,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, in a statement.

Spending Cut

Trump signed the $1.3 trillion spending bill last month after threatening to veto it. Shortly afterward, the White House began talking with House GOP leaders about using a budget maneuver called rescission to cut some of the domestic spending.

But new Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said Thursday he warned Trump in a private meeting that such a measure may not get enough GOP votes to pass the Senate. Top Senate Appropriations Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont declared the rescission effort dead, saying, “So many Republicans in both houses have made clear they won’t vote for that.”

To be approved by the House, the proposed constitutional amendment, H.J.Res. 2, would have needed at least 49 Democrats to cross party lines to support it. Constitutional amendments require approval from two-thirds of the House and Senate, and ratification by three-fourths of the states.

Centrist Democrat Kurt Schrader of Oregon said he opposed the amendment despite voting for a different version of it in the past.

“I’m for a balanced budget but it has to be thoughtful,“ he said. Schrader said he wanted an amendment to shield Social Security from cuts and allow a waiver to authorize deficit spending during an economic downturn.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said he’ll seek to force a vote on the measure in his chamber as well.

"We’ll see who actually really does believe in balancing the budget,” he said on Twitter. Paul caused an overnight government shutdown in February to protest a deal on raising budget caps.

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