An amendment to the Constitution requiring Congress to balance the budget stumbled out of the gate Friday and failed to get enough votes to pass the House.
The measure required a two-thirds majority of those voting to win passage, 284 votes, but failed 261-165.
Conservative Republicans lobbied for a balanced budget amendment that would require a super-majority vote for Congress to raise taxes. However, most rallied behind the measure sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R.–Va.) that would have required a three-fifths majority vote to raise the debt or approve deficit spending.
The lone Republican holdouts were Reps. David Drier of California, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Justin Amash of Michigan, however 25 Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the amendment.
Ryan said his concern was that that minus the tax protections, the amendment would instead lead to bigger government.
“Spending is the problem, yet this version of the 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.”
Gohmert agreed and said that without a spending cap, Congress would instead raise taxes to balance the budget.
House Speaker John Boehner said he was disappointed with the outcome, and blamed Democrats for the loss. Democrats and Republicans agreed to at least bring the measure up for a vote before the end of the year, as part of the agreement in August to increase the debt ceiling.
“It’s unfortunate that Democrats still don’t recognize the urgency of stopping Washington’s job-crushing spending binge,” Boehner said.
“Our unemployment rate has been stuck above eight percent for more than two years. Our national debt now tops $15 trillion. Wasteful stimulus spending not only failed, it left us with a weak economy. The American people are still asking the question, ‘where are the jobs?’ But the Democrats running Washington just aren’t listening,” Boehner said.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D. –Texas), called the amendment a “tired old formula” for members of Congress to abdicate their responsibilities.
“This Constitution is sacred,” Lee said as she waived a copy of the document over her head. “It has nothing in it about a balanced budget.”
When Congress tried to pass a balanced budget amendment in 1995, 72 Democrats sided with Republicans in the House but the bill was defeated in the Senate by one vote.
It’s unlikely an amendment will pass the Senate, and the White House has vowed to veto the measure.
“We do not need to amend the Constitution for only the 28th time in our nation’s history to do the job of restoring fiscal discipline,” the Obama administration said in a statement. “Instead, it requires us — as members of both parties have done in the past — to move beyond politics as usual and find bipartisan common ground to restore us to a sustainable fiscal path.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D. –Md.) Democratic whip, said he supported the measure in 1995 but no longer does because the Republicans who hold the majority could not be trusted in an emergency to raise the spending cap.
“What we need is not a balanced budget amendment, but a balanced budget,” Hoyer said. “Let us summon the courage and the will and the ability to work together. Let us do it day, after day, after day, and when the issues come before you, have the courage to vote for the spending or vote for the revenue.”
Goodlatte, who led the debate during the floor debate, said afterwards that the Democratic leadership put politics over principle and worked hard whipping votes to defeat his legislation.
“This vote should not have been about politics, it should have been about what is right for our nation,” Goodlatte said. “It is a simple concept—you can’t spend more than you take in.”
Rep. Jack Kingston (R. –Ga.) also criticized the Democratic opponents of the measure and said “When all else goes wrong in Democrat liberal land, they start scaring senior citizens, children, first responders … and whatever else they say it will threaten.”
Rep. Leonard Boswell of Iowa, one of the few Democrats who urged his colleagues to vote yes, said a Constitutional amendment was necessary to force the political will of Congress to make solid decisions for the country.
Some members, Boswell said, “are more interested in securing the next election than the economic soundness of this country.”
“We can’t cut our way out of this mess and we can’t tax our way out of this mess, we need a balanced approach,” Boswell said.
Some Republicans were not dismayed by the amendment’s defeat, and said they will continue to push for a cultural change in the way Washington spends money.
“The past three years have seen the largest increase in debt under one administration in our nation’s history, showing the urgency needed to tackle this problem,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R.–Ohio). “We will move forward with new efforts to control federal spending, create jobs and get our country on the right track.”
Added Rep. Cory Gardner (R.–Colo.): “We were sent here to deal with one of the greatest challenges this country faces, one of growing and insurmountable debt and deficit.”