Balanced-budget amendment falls short in House

WASHINGTON Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:35pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A measure that would amend the Constitution to require the government to balance its books each year fell short in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday.

By a vote of 261 to 165, largely along party lines, the bill fell short of the two-thirds majority that constitutional amendments need to pass the House and Senate.

Despite its defeat, the measure will give Republicans a handy talking point in the 2012 elections as they portray Democrats as insufficiently committed to getting the United States' $15 trillion debt under control.

As a 12-member congressional "super committee" struggled to find $1.2 trillion in budget savings before a Wednesday deadline, Republicans said Congress will never have the discipline to align taxes and spending without a constitutional requirement to do so.

"Washington, D.C. isn't just broke, it's broken, and the time has come to change the way we spend the people's money," said Republican Representative Mike Pence, a leader of the party's conservative wing.

Democrats and many economists say a balanced-budget requirement would tie the government's hands during times of recession, when tax receipts fall and safety-net expenses balloon. Slashing spending or raising taxes during those times would make economic downturns worse, they say.

They point to the budget surpluses of the 1990s as evidence that politicians do not need a constitutional requirement to act responsibly.

"That's like standing behind my mother's skirt," said Democratic Representative Mel Watt. "Grow up. Make responsible decisions."

Budget deficits widened in the past decade when President George W. Bush cut taxes while pursuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and adding an expensive new prescription-drug benefit.

The deep recession of 2008-2009, and President Barack Obama's efforts to fight it through additional tax cuts and domestic spending, have pushed annual deficits above the $1 trillion mark.

Forecasters predict the budget gap will narrow as the economy recovers, before widening again as an aging population pushes up pension and healthcare costs.

Even if the amendment were to pass Congress, it would have to win approval from at least 38 of the 50 states.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Comments (14)
NobleKin wrote:
If Republicans actually believed in a balanced budget, why did they kill the PAYGO legislation enacted by HW Bush and used by Clinton/Congress to balance the budget prior to the reign of W. Bush?

Why did the Republican controlled House let this legistaltion expire in 2002?

Why did the Republican controlled Congress from 2003 to 2007 continue to spend like drunken monkeys on the Wars, Medicare part D, and Homeland Defense expansions of government…absent taxes?

Starve the Beast anyone?

Concerted effort to kill Social Security, Medicare, Medcaid, and all other social safety nets…and hand them to private interests…and add layer upon layer of greed fueled innefficiency (Massive staffs to deny claims, bloated executive salaries, bloated bonuses, and hefty dividends to shareholders)

How has the Private Health Insurance model been working for America the past two decades? It has been identified as the number one cause of American bankruptcies and the number one threat to our long term economic viability. And yet, we have Republicons and their supporters greedily pressing to hand it all back to the 1%ers who run and rape this country.

Time to wake up.

Nov 18, 2011 3:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
vinatj wrote:
This is the most significant vote Congress will make. Those that opposed it need to be voted out.

This is the only way to slow down the insane expansion of the federal government. Even liberal Americans should be on board with this. If this had passed in 1995, maybe we wouldn’t have gone into all these wars.

I don’t think people really understand what’s going on. The federal government borrows 40 cents of every dollar they spend. We have a $15 trillion debt, Obama’s deficits in 3 years is $4 trillion. We have record high poverty levels, people on food stamps, and many States are out of money. Our true unemployment is closer to 16%, and our housing market is having a lost decade.

We are broke and it’s only getting worse. This stuff has to be paid for sooner or later; it’s not free. Our only way out is through private sector growth, that means the federal government must get its self under control. Less government means more growth— it really is that simple.

The demand for that which is free— is endless. Politicians won’t stop spending because it’s not their money— it’s ours.

Nov 18, 2011 4:31pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Pete_Murphy wrote:
It’s impossible to balance the federal budget without first restoring a balance of trade. Federal budget deficits are essential in order for dollars lost to the trade deficit to be returned to the economy. Nations with trade surpluses use their dollars to buy U.S. bonds, which are sold to finance the deficit spending. Without the deficit spending, the economy would soon be drained of money by the trade deficit.

It would make far more sense to first pass a constitutional amendment to require a balance of trade.

Nov 18, 2011 4:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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