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
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. …