The One Vote Failure: The Effort to Enact a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution By Gregory Hilton

This was a major issue throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, when it frequently came close to passage. The amendment responded to concerns that federal spending was spiraling out of control, and it would have imposed debt limits on the government. They definitely were needed and the current public debt is $11.7 trillion, or about $37,900 per person. It is increasing at the rate of about $3.92 billion dollars per day.
The Balanced Budget Amendment was clearly in the spotlight with the election of a Republican Congress in 1994. This was the first time in 30 years the GOP was in power in both Houses and item number one in their 1994 Contract With America was the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
It called for an amendment to the Constitution which would require a balanced budget, unless sanctioned by a three-fifths vote in both houses of Congress. This was passed by the House of Representatives as Joint Resolution 1 on January 26, 1995 by a vote of 300 to 132. It then became Senate Joint Resolution 1 and was co-sponsored by all of the Republican lawmakers, except one.
They were joined by 7 Democrats (Bryan (NV), Kohl (WI), Graham (FL), Baucus (MT), Breaux (LA), Moseley-Braun (IL) and Robb of Virginia). A Constitutional Amendment requires a two thirds vote for passage. On March 2, 1995, the Senate failed to adopt it by a vote of 66-to-35. This was one vote shy of the necessary two-thirds. Six Democratic Senators who voted for the resolution in 1994 voted against it in 1995. All of them had been lobbied by President Clinton.
The group included Majority Leader Tom Daschle (SD), Wendell Ford (KY), the Senate Whip, Harry Reid (NV), the present Majority Leader, and Byron Dorgan (ND). Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) was the only Republican who broke with his colleagues by failing to support the amendment, and he refused to abstain. Hatfield said it was the most important vote in thirty years on Capitol Hill, but he saw it as “a political ploy to erroneously make Americans think we are actually doing something about the deficit.” An unsuccessful effort was later made to strip Hatfield of his Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee in retaliation.
Had the amendment passed, the federal government’s power to use deficit spending would have ended. The Amendment was brought up again in June of 1996 when it failed by two votes. The Democratic Party platform opposed the Constitutional Amendment. In addition, Senator Bill Nighthorse Campbell cited the Balanced Budget Amendment as the reason he switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

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One response to “The One Vote Failure: The Effort to Enact a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution By Gregory Hilton

  1. This is just politics as usual. Our non representing representatives play political games without a second thought to the long term affects their games will have on our country.
    As citizens we must work harder to seek out decent, principled men and women to serve as representatives in all three branches of our government.

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