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Budget Amendment Rejected Republicans Fall One Vote Shy On Balanced-Budget Proposal

Wed., March 5, 1997, midnight

The Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposed balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution by a single vote for the second time in three years, as President Clinton and the Democrats prevailed in arguing it would jeopardize Social Security and that it was not needed to eliminate deficits.

Once a rallying cry for the Republican Revolution, the amendment has lost much of its punch as the federal deficit declined sharply in recent years and White House and GOP negotiators inch toward a possible balanced-budget deal.

Republican proponents insisted passage of the amendment was essential to forcing Congress and the White House to balance the budget for the first time in 28 years. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., declared, “If we’re not prepared to step up and pass this constitutional amendment now, we’re admitting … that it’s not going to happen anytime soon.”

Democratic opponents said a budget deal could be negotiated without tampering with the Constitution. “If we don’t have the courage to do what’s right, we don’t belong here,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said. “Let’s not slap this bumper sticker on the greatest Constitution that was ever written.”

The Senate voted 66 to 34 for the plan, but that was one vote short of the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment. All 55 Republicans joined with 11 Democrats to support the measure.

The amendment, the cornerstone of the GOP’s congressional agenda, would require a balanced budget by 2002 and permit exemptions only if approved by a three-fifths super-majority in both houses.

xxxx NW votes Here’s how Washington, Idaho and Montana senators voted: Washington: Gorton (R) Yes; Murray (D) No. Idaho: Craig (R) Yes; Kempthorne (R) Yes. Montana: Burns, (R) Yes; Baucus (D) Yes.

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