Senate Votes Down Budget Amendment Foes Saw Threat to Social Security

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In a stinging setback for Republicans, the balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution went down to a narrow defeat Tuesday in the Senate at the hands of Democrats who attacked it as a threat to Social Security.

The vote was 66-34, one shy of the two-thirds needed. It marked the third consecutive year that Republicans had failed to muster the support to pass the amendment, a cornerstone of their conservative agenda.

All 55 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted for the measure. The 34 other Democrats voted against it. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., voted for the amendment, as did Sens. John Ashcroft and Christopher S. Bond, both R-Mo. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., voted against it. Supporters described the measure as the only mechanism available to ensure that the federal government will eventually balance its budget and begin to pay off the national debt. Opponents called it a political gimmick that would still leave the hard choices of how to balance the budget to future Congresses. Many Democrats also questioned whether the amendment could wind up forcing steep cuts in Social Security, hamstring the government's ability to run a debt during a defense or economic crisis, and curb the government's ability to borrow for capital expenditures like roads, airports and other infrastructure projects important to the economy. GOP frustration was evident in the moments before the vote, when Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, repeatedly accused Democrats of "demagoguery" when it came to Social Security. "You're doggone right we (Republicans) like Social Security and we're tired of the demagoguery," said Hatch, the amendment's sponsor in a floor speech. Democrats simply "don't want to cast the right vote" to force an end to almost three decades of nonstop deficits, he said. But Democrats had long since made up their minds. Social Security "is the most successful social program in the history of the world," said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. "For millions of older Americans, it is the difference between living in dignity and living in fear and poverty. A balanced-budget amendment shouldn't force us to break that historic contract." In Arkansas to survey tornado damage, President Bill Clinton said he was pleased with the amendment's defeat. "At the same time, let me be clear: While I oppose a constitutional amendment, I am committed to achieving the bipartisan goal of balancing the budget by 2002. …