Analysts Call Prospects Iffy for Ratification of Budget Amendment

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SENATE DEMOCRATS called on Republicans Friday to outline a plan for eliminating deficits before the final vote on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

With Senate debate set to begin Monday, Republican leader Bob Dole forecast a "long struggle" to assemble the two-thirds majority needed for approval of the amendment. "I hope we can do it," he said. "It's going to be very difficult."

Should the amendment pass the Senate, it then must be ratified by the legislatures in 38 states.

A new nationwide survey of legislative leaders indicates that the proposal may fall short of the required three-quarters margin.

The Associated Press interviewed nearly 300 legislators across the nation Thursday and Friday, and found most ready to ratify the proposal. By the legislators' assessments, the measure appears likely to be ratified in 32 states, lose in two and faces uncertain prospects in the remaining 16.

The survey found the amendment likely to pass in Missouri. Its prospects in Illinois were uncertain, the AP said.

The measure cleared the House on Thursday night on a vote of 300-132.

The amendment lies at the core of an effort by the new Republican majority in Congress to shrink government and cut spending. Support is nearly unanimous among Senate Republicans, but Democrats are divided over a measure that some say would lead to devastating cuts in federal programs. The GOP holds a 53-47 majority in the Senate.

Dole received a letter from 42 Democratic senators Friday offering to join in a bipartisan effort to identify the actions that would be needed to erase deficits over the seven-year period specified in the amendment.

"All of us, whether we favor or oppose the constitutional balanced-budget amendment, support the idea that Americans have a right to know," said the letter summarized for reporters by Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and others.

The presence of more than 40 signatures indicated Democrats are prepared to wage a strong effort for their "right to know" proposal. The number means opponents could filibuster against the bill and kill it.

House Democrats unsuccessfully tried to force a vote on the proposal, hoping it would force Republicans to lay out a series of deep cuts in popular programs such as Medicare, education and health that would come back to haunt them at the polls.

President Bill Clinton echoed the concern. "The people need more information on this before the legislators vote on it," Clinton said. "If it's going to be sent out there, there ought to be a cover sheet showing how it will be done."

Dole reacted mildly at a news conference, saying he had referred the matter to Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

In the House Friday, Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said he would schedule a vote for April 15, 1996 - income tax filing day - on a separate amendment to require a three-fifths majority in both houses of Congress for tax increases.

Should the effort fail, he said, "We will work . . . to replace pro-tax members with pro-taxpayer members."

There is a seven-year time limit for ratification. At least one state, Idaho, would need at least two years for passage because all such amendments require a vote of the people. Other states appear likely to pass the measure within days of any Senate approval. …

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