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Balanced Budget Votes Fail in Senate

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
A Democratic plan for a balanced budget amendment, sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, failed 21-79.

Competing balanced budget constitutional amendments fell far short of the 67 votes needed to pass the Senate today.

A Democratic plan sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) failed 21-79. Senate Republicans, led by Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (Utah), had their own proposal, which garnered more support but still went down 47-53.

Under the Udall bill, the federal government would be prohibited from spending more than it brings in, unless there are 60 votes to waive the requirement.

The measure would require the president to submit a budget each year that is balanced, and the provision would be waived when the U.S. is in a declared time of war.

The bill also would protect Social Security revenue and outlays from any balanced budget requirement, and it would prohibit Congress from providing income tax breaks for people earning more than $1 million a year, unless the nation is running surpluses.

Before the vote, Udall said his measure was “aimed at finding common ground that both parties and a big majority of Americans can support.”

Twenty Democrats and Republican Dean Heller (Nev.) supported the Udall measure. For the Hatch version, the vote fell along party lines.

The Hatch measure also required yearly balanced budgets, but it included a requirement that a two-thirds supermajority of both houses must vote in order to raise taxes. The Hatch measure also would have capped total federal spending to 18 percent of the gross domestic product.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged Democrats to join Republicans in backing the Hatch measure, which he said was the best option for reining in spending and heading off a debt crisis similar to the one consuming the European Union.

“We must prevent what’s happening in Europe from happening here,” McConnell said. “The balanced budget amendment Republicans are offering today will go a long way in preventing that day of reckoning from happening here. Every Senator should support it.”

Hatch argued that Udall’s proposal was too weak and would result in increased taxes to cover unchecked spending.

“This is what you get with the Democratic balanced budget amendment,” Hatch said. “You get a constitutional amendment that is going to force Congress to raise taxes on families and businesses to pay for ... out-of-control government spending.”

Udall charged that the Hatch bill, because of its “unrealistic limitations on our government,” could “prevent us from securing the retirement of hardworking Americans, undermine our defense and send the United States back to a time before Social Security and a host of other important programs put in place to protect the middle class.”

The House last month also failed to pass similar versions. The votes in both chambers were required under the deal struck in August to raise the debt ceiling.

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