Democrats said Friday that 69 of them in the House will support a balanced-budget amendment when it reaches a vote next week, all but assuring the measure will pass a chamber of Congress for only the second time in seven attempts.
Rep. Charles W. Stenholm, D-Texas, said the Democrats have lined up behind his version of the amendment, which requires a balanced budget no sooner than the year 2002 and prohibits tax increases without the approval of a majority of all the 435 members of the House and the 100 senators.
That clouds the prospects of a rival proposal, backed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and others, that is a centerpiece of the House Republicans’ manifesto, the “Contract With America.” That version of the amendment would require three-fifths of the House and Senate members to approve tax increases, a ratio intended to tilt any federal deficit reduction strategies away from finding more revenue and toward cutting spending.
The balanced-budget battle dominated an otherwise sleepy day in which the full House and the Senate were absorbed in the minutiae of another contract item, legislation that would free states and cities from the burden of paying to enforce federal legal and regulatory orders.
Gingrich and other Republican leaders in the House and the Senate have mounted a vigorous campaign for their proposal this week. Their allies kept it up in a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee on Friday, insisting that any balanced-budget measure that does not rein in the government’s appetite for money will effectively be toothless.
Virtually all Republicans support some form of a balanced-budget amendment, and the vast majority supports Gingrich’s version. But moderate Republicans and the Democrats led by Stenholm hold the balance of power, because it takes two-thirds of the House - 290 members, if everyone votes - to approve a Constitutional amendment. And there are but 230 Republicans.
That means that no measure can pass without the support of 60 Democrats, and probably more, and Stenholm appears to be the only politician who can now deliver them.
But Gingrich was not conceding that Friday. “We are going all out on our side of the aisle,” he said at a news conference.