Skirmishing on a proposed balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, the Republicancontrolled Senate on Wednesday brushed aside Democratic demands for a detailed list of spending cuts needed to erase federal deficits.
The 56-44 vote, largely along party lines, cleared the way for Democrats to press their case to have Social Security, the most politically sensitive of all federal programs, sheltered from the budget knife.
The maneuvering came on the eighth day of debate on the measure, which both sides say may rise or fall by a margin of one vote. With virtually all Republicans in favor, the pivotal votes are held by moderate Democrats - including many in the leadership - who have voted for balanced-budget amendments before but now are calling for changes in the version produced by Republicans.
Democratic leader Tom Daschle led the effort for the doomed “right-toknow amendment,” saying that by refusing to outline a program of cuts, majority Republicans had decided to “hide the truth and sidestep the pain.”
Speaking of the GOP, he said, “What is it they are trying to conceal from Social Security recipients … from the Pentagon … from veterans and military retirees about our true intentions with respect to their future?”
Republicans replied that the proposal was really an attempt to kill the amendment, which already has cleared the House and thus is one step shy of going to the states for ratification… by people who are opposed to a balanced-budget amendment,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, a leading advocate of the balanced-budget amendment, said the Democratic proposal “has to be called not the right to know but the right to stall and stall and stall and stall and deny to the American people the right to” decide on the amendment itself.
All 53 Republicans, joined by Democrats Paul Simon of Illinois, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado and Howell Heflin of Alabama, voted to kill the attempt to force a seven-year, budgetcutting blueprint. All no votes were cast by Democrats.
While they swept that proposal aside relatively easily, Republicans expressed more nervousness about the Democratic attempt to make sure Social Security is guaranteed protection.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., leading advocate of the Social Security proposal, said, “Certainly we should be told how they (Republicans) are going to treat the largest cash cow in the federal government today.”
Republicans insist they would leave Social Security untouched as they worked to eliminate deficits, but many lawmakers are concerned about possible political repercussions from senior citizens if they vote to leave it even theoretically susceptible to cuts.
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