The proposed balanced budget amendment and a package of aid for Mexico ran into stiff head winds Friday on Capitol Hill, while the Senate handily approved legislation to make it more difficult for Congress to order state and local governments to start costly new programs.
A day after Republican-led House lawmakers took a first step toward a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget, Democrats in the Senate warned that their support could depend on whether Republicans “come clean” with plans to bring the deficit to zero - a cut of at least $1.2 trillion by 2002.
If Republicans do not comply, said Sen. John B. Breaux, D-La., it would be “very, very difficult” to gain enough Democrats to pass the measure. With 67 votes needed for passage, Republicans must win the support of at least 14 Democrats, as well keep all GOP troops in line.
Senate opponents of the balanced budget amendment may have been emboldened by recent polls showing its support slipping.
Although Senate Democrats and Republicans sparred over the balanced budget, they joined forces on the floor to pass the socalled “unfunded mandates” bill by a lopsided vote of 86-10. The bill “is the first step in forging a new partnership between Congress and our partners at the state and local level,” said Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan.
Senate Republicans had made the bill one of their highest legislative priorities.
The measure would prohibit federal agencies from enforcing any law that requires state and local governments to start a program the federal government does not pay for - unless Congress specifically waives the requirement.
In the House, many Democrats have warned the bill will erode the government’s ability to protect the air and water and to enforce health, labor and safety standards. But the bill is expected to pass easily there when taken up next week.
The $40 billion package of loan guarantees to Mexico has run into serious trouble on Capitol Hill. The Clinton administration’s delay in crafting the details of a proposal has allowed the measure to languish for more than two weeks.