Senate Republican leaders plan to proceed today with a vote on the proposed balanced budget amendment and make the expected defeat of the measure a 1996 campaign issue against Democratic opponents.
The decision came after a day of partisan finger-pointing as Republican supporters of the amendment failed to win the one additional convert they need to pass the measure in the Senate.
The mood on Capitol Hill was ugly in the wake of the decision Tuesday night by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas to put off a scheduled roll-call vote because supporters were one vote short of the 67 needed for passage.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, butting in where angry Democrats insisted he had no business to intrude, called Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., liars.
Dole, rankled by Sen. Robert Byrd’s, D-W.Va., complaint of a “sleazy and tawdry” double-cross by Dole, threatened to invoke a littleused rule against Byrd for indecorous behavior.
And the two sides remained gridlocked over how to resolve the main sticking point - a dispute over whether surplus funds in the Social Security system should be counted when the government calculates the budget deficit.
Unless some minds change overnight, the proposed constitutional amendment - which would require a balanced federal budget by the year 2002 - will remain one vote shy of adoption.
In that case, said Dole, he will move to bring up the amendment again later, perhaps a few weeks before the 1996 congressional elections, after the GOP, sympathetic talk-radio programs and 30-second ad campaigns have had ample time to soften up opposition Democrats.
The House passed the balanced budget amendment last month by a 300-112 margin. Thirty-eight states would have to ratify the amendment before it became part of the constitution.
As Dole put it: “We may even win if we lose. … If we lose we’ll take the issue to the American people.”