Aiming to launch a new political offensive, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole hopes to bring the narrowly defeated balanced-budget constitutional amendment back before the Senate next week.
The move will give the Republican presidential candidate an election-season chance to champion a proposal that has been opposed by President Clinton and most Democrats but that polls suggest is supported by three-fourths of Americans. It is also likely to mark the beginning of the fiscal 1997 budget debate, as the GOP-dominated House and Senate budget committees may present new budget-balancing plans next week.The amendment would require a balanced federal budget by 2002, but leave Clinton and Congress the task of solving their stalemate over how to do it. With 52 of the Senate's 53 Republicans expected to support the amendment, 15 Democratic votes will be needed for the required two-thirds margin - a point Dole was happy to subtly tweak Democrats over.
"I don't think this is a partisan issue," Dole, R-Kan., said on the Senate floor. "Many Democrats voted for the amendment last year and we'd like to have a couple more."
Dole said debate could begin Wednesday, with a final vote possible the following week.
The amendment passed the House in January 1995 but fell a single vote short in the Senate two months later. With its defeat ensured, Dole switched his vote to "nay," giving him the right to demand a new roll call without an opportunity for Democrats to amend or delay it.
The chances are, though, that the Senate will not revote the same language because "we'd lose," Dole conceded in a brief interview on Thursday.
Since the 1995 vote, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has replaced retired Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore. Packwood supported the amendment, while Wyden has joined a group of a half-dozen Democrats who say they would vote for it only if Social Security is shielded from budget-balancing cuts. That leaves supporters needing two additional Democratic votes.
Dole said Friday he was seeking a solution to the Democrats' objections and believed Social Security could be removed from the budget-balancing equation "after a suitable phase-in."
The Democrats' Social Security argument has proved to be an effective political trap for Republicans. The GOP would be reluctant to carve savings out of the popular program but wants to keep it within the budget because its vast surpluses make the federal deficit smaller and lessen the need for cuts elsewhere.
Senate GOP aides said they had offered Democrats a plan that would remove Social Security from the budget in 2006. Democrats have turned the idea down, said Democratic aides.