Just days after the national debt hit $15 trillion, in what Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, describes as the “last line of defense against Congress’ unending desire to overspend and overtax”, the proposed balanced budget amendment failed to pass the vote in the House today.
The Conservative Congress members have spent months seeking support for the proposal, saying that this is the only way to force Congress to put this nations financial house in order. The proposed amendment to the Constitution, which would require Congress to balance the nations budget, actually won a majority of the vote, with 261 votes supporting the proposal and 165 opposing it. However, the amendment did not pass, because it fell short of the required two-thirds majority vote, which is 284 votes.
While the vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans voting for the proposal and most Democrats voting against it, Speaker of the House John Boehner lays the blame on Democrats in the House for the proposal not passing. There were, however, four Republicans who voted against it as well. In a statement after the failed vote, Speaker Boehner said:
“It’s unfortunate that Democrats still don’t recognize the urgency of stopping Washington’s job-crushing spending binge. A number of economists and experts support a Balanced Budget Amendment because it would help create a better environment for private-sector job growth.”
The four Republicans who voted against the proposal were:
Representative David Dreier, R-California
Representative Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin
Representative Justin Amash, R-Michigan
Representative Louie Gohmert, R-Texas
Representative Paul Ryan said he voted against the proposal because the actual draft of the amendment voted on was much different from the one Conservatives had drafted, which would have set solid spending limits, and would have required a super-majority to raise taxes. He said he believes the proposal which was actually voted on today would make it “more likely” that the way a balanced budget would be reached would be by just raising taxes, rather than actually cutting spending. ”In a statement explaining why he voted against the measure, he said:
“Without a limit on government spending, I cannot support this amendment.”
There was obvious disappointment among those who voted for the proposal. Freshman Representative Steve Womack, R-Arksansas, said:
“In the 10 plus months I’ve been here, I consider this vote the most important vote I will have because it’s the vote that has the most impact on the future of my grandson. It is sad that Congress does not have the discipline to live within its means, and I strongly believe the only way to constrain an undisciplined Congress is to enshrine its obligation in the Constitution.”
Representative Candice Miller, R- Michigan, who also voted for today’s proposal, said:
“It is time for this Congress to use the tools our Founding Fathers gave us to amend the Constitution to save further generations from the shackles of unsustainable debt.”
One of the few Democrats who voted for the proposal, Representative Mike Ross, D- Arkansas, said:
“I’m very disappointed the House failed to pass this amendment, because, as a fiscal conservative, I have helped introduce a balanced budget amendment in each and every session of Congress since I first arrived. Deficit spending is nothing new, and both parties share the blame, but our deficits have become unsustainable and it’s past time to restore fiscal discipline and accountability to our government.”
Today’s proposal is a softer version of the proposal of the original, as an attempt to win more Democrat votes. While the original draft set solid spending limits, the proposal voted on today would have required total spending for any fiscal year not exceed total receipts. It did, however, provided for some flexibility, such as in times of war. To raise the debt ceiling or a waiver of the balanced budget amendment in a given year, a three-fifths majority vote would have been required.
If the proposal would have passed in today’s vote, it would not have immediately solved our nations financial problems. The bill would still face a fierce battle in the Senate, which it would likely not pass. However, in the event it had passed in both houses, it would still have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. This process would not be complete until 2015. The proposal then allowed 2 additional years for the bill to go into effect, bringing us to 2017, to allow Congress time to bring the budget into balance.
This is the first time a balanced budget amendment has been proposed since 1995, but it too failed to pass. The 1995 proposal passed in the House, but failed to pass the Senate by one single vote.