Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate's 2 Hearings on Balanced Budget Balance Each Other

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate's 2 Hearings on Balanced Budget Balance Each Other

Article excerpt

THE SENATE curtain rose Tuesday on a familiar debate with an unfamiliar twist: dueling committee hearings over a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

Upstairs in the Dirksen Office Building, Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., led the Judiciary Committee in hearing testimony from witnesses who favored the amendment. They said it was the only way Congress and the country would gain deliverance from deficits that have ravaged the economy.

One floor below, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., orchestrated an array of witnesses from the Clinton administration who appeared before his Appropriations Committee with an equally apocalyptic vision of the future with a mandatory balanced budget. They warned of economic turmoil and the elimination of the programs that protect the elderly and the poor.

The weeklong hearings will set the table for next week's Senate debate over the amendment for a balanced budget, which is expected to be voted on for the first time since 1986, when it lost by one vote. This year's vote also will be close; so far, Simon has lined up 54 co-sponsors and has said he is just a few votes short of the 67 he will need.

If the Senate adopts the measure, the House is expected to follow suit, after which the amendment would need ratification by 38 state legislatures to be added to the Constitution.

The amendment calls for a balanced budget in October 1998. Exceptions could be made with the approval of 60 percent each of the House and Senate, or with a majority vote of each chamber in wartime.

Simon, the amendment's longtime champion, set the tone for the coming debate in his opening statement.

He called the vote "a turning point, either toward fiscal responsibility and a brighter economic and political future for generations . . . or a continuation down the slippery path of . . . eventual monetary disaster."

"We need the discipline of a constitutional amendment to force us to face fiscal realities," he said.

Simon's witnesses included former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, D-Mass., co-chairman of the anti-deficit Concord Coalition. Tsongas reviewed the failure of legislators over the years to reduce the deficit significantly and said the amendment would be a "mechanism of discipline" to enforce "widespread sacrifice. …

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