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Saying federal spending is skyrocketing out of control, the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Thursday a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

The amendment passed 11-3. It goes next to the full Senate. To be enacted, it must pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote and be ratified by three-fourths of the states.While all committee members agreed that federal spending is out of control, they disagreed about whether the amendment would help by requiring a balanced budget except during years of war or when three-fifths of each house votes to waive the requirement.

Hatch, a senior committee member, argued it would help bring down the current $3.2 trillion national debt.

"In order to control spending, the underlying spending bias in our fiscal process must be corrected. This bias occurs because members of Congress do not have to cast votes to raise new taxes in order to accommodate new spending programs. Congress simply resorts to deficit spending," he said.

"Statutory controls on spending can be circumvented too readily. We need the balanced budget principle enshrined in the Constitution."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., disagreed. "This amendment is an indictment of the system. It says we're not going to balance the budget, we're going to have some gimmick do it for us - a gimmick that is unenforceable. . . . It will create the impression the problem is solved when it isn't."

But Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., "It is in fact a gimmick. . . . But I am prepared to take what I consider radical medicine (and vote for it).

"This is a lousy amendment. It's not a good idea - except I can't think of any other idea except maintaining the status quo. And the status quo stinks."

Hatch has lobbied hard for the amendment, giving speeches nationwide urging its adoption. He has also urged state legislatures to call for a Constitutional Convention for the amendment, which in turn would pressure Congress to pass it itself first.

Hatch said in debate Thursday, "The people of Utah, like other Americans, understand the adverse consequences that follow when they don't balance their own budgets."

He added, "High interest rates and the resulting decline in investment and productivity, as well as unacceptable levels of unemployment, all follow when the government uses an excessive share of natural resources."