Congress lost its best chance yet to get the discipline it needs to stem the flow of red ink, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig said shortly after the Balanced Budget Amendment went down to a narrow defeat.S
“Last November’s election was a loud cry from the American people about the arrogance of power. By one vote this time, that power hung on,” said Republican Craig, a longtime supporter of the amendment.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray’s view is that Congress wisely walked away from a dangerous precedent of amending the Constitution for economic planning.
“The Constitution is about rights and responsibilities … not economic blueprints,” said Democrat Murray, one of only two Northwest senators to vote no. “We were tinkering with the Constitution with back-room deals.”
As an amendment supporter, Craig was aligned with fellow Idahoan Dirk Kempthorne, Slade Gorton of Washington, Bob Packwood of Oregon and Max Baucus and Conrad Burns of Montana. Baucus is a Democrat, the rest are Republicans.
The only other Northwest no vote came from Oregon Republican Mark Hatfield. Like Murray, he said the vote preserved the integrity of the Constitution.
Not surprisingly, Craig and Murray framed their arguments in different terms.
Craig, who has pushed a balanced budget for more than a dozen years, talked of the strong public sentiment for the plan. He blasted Democrats for using Social Security as “a phony issue to hide behind” in voting against the amendment.
Some Democrats had asked for the proposal to be rewritten to make sure the federal trust fund could not be tapped to balance a future budget.
Congress could change the scope of Social Security and create a “gigantic loophole” to undermine the amendment, he said.
Murray agreed that a plan to exempt Social Security in the amendment was a bad idea - one of many that was floated by frantic supporters as they searched unsuccessfully for a decisive vote.
“The more they added, the more difficult they made it to approve,” she said.
She also disputed Craig and other Republicans’ contentions the public strongly supports the amendment. What the public supports is a balanced budget, she said.
“We have to reduce the deficit in a common-sense way,” she said.
Craig said the amendment will be revived, either late this year or early next. Meanwhile, the Republicancontrolled Congress will try to cut the budget deficit by about $25 billion to $30 billion next year, about the same annual rate needed to meet the amendment’s target for 2002.
Murray said she welcomes the chance to talk about real cuts.
“If we had spent the last five weeks setting priorities of the country instead of debating this amendment, we’d be a lot closer to reducing that deficit,” she said.