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Senate Working On Balanced Budget Challenges

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WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 10) -- The Senate began sifting through a series of Democratic challenges to the balanced budget amendment today, with a final vote not expected for several weeks.

One proposal, by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), would have let Congress waive the balanced budget requirement by a simple majority vote in times of economic crisis. It failed on a 64-35 vote. In its present form, the constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths majority for deficit financing.

Democrats have also offered proposals to exclude Social Security and other programs and to create a separate capital budget.

Backers of the simple majority language said there was no guarantee that Congress could muster the three-fifths vote in an economic crisis, when the federal government might want to deficit spend to stimulate the economy.

But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said suggesting it would be impossible to get the three-fifths vote during a crisis "is an insult to everybody who believes in this country and who is patriotic."

A vote on excluding Social Security is expected next week.

In the House, the GOP leadership has decided to defer to the Senate, after some Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee said they would support a Democratic version of the balanced budget plan offered by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

In the face of that, Rep. Henry Hyde (D-Ill.) has called off a Tuesday meeting and will wait for the Senate to complete its work.

A two-thirds majority in each house of Congress is needed to move a constitutional amendment along to the state legislatures. Three-quarters of the states must then pass it for the amendment to become part of the Constitution. In 1995, the House passed a balanced budget measure, but the Senate was one vote short.


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