The House rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have forced Congress to balance its budget every year as a way to reverse years of deficit spending. A majority of House members supported the balanced budget measure, but supporters fell short of achieving the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution.
A Congressional vote on a balanced budget amendment, between Oct. 1-Dec. 31, was required by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Republicans who backed the amendment said it was the only way to get Congress to put its fiscal house in order. Democratic critics said a balanced budget requirement would result in drastic cuts in Medicare and other social programs when economic downturns put the budget out of balance.
It was the first House vote on a balanced budget amendment since 1995, when the House approved it but the bill fell one vote short in the Senate.
The first House vote on a balanced budget amendment in 16 years came as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction appears to be sputtering in its attempt to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade.
With the national debt now topping $15 trillion and the deficit for the just-ended fiscal year passing $1 trillion, supporters of the amendment declared it the only way to stop out-of-control spending. But Democratic leaders worked aggressively to defeat the measure, saying that such a requirement could cause devastating cuts to social programs during economic downturns and that disputes over what to cut could result in Congress ceding its power of the purse to the courts.
The measure mirrored the 1995 resolution in stating that federal spending cannot exceed revenues in any one year. It would have required a three-fifths majority to raise the debt ceiling or waive the balanced budget requirement in any year. Congress would have been able to let the budget go into deficit with a simple majority if there was a serious military conflict.