The Senate on Thursday again rejected a balanced-budget constitutional amendment, as Republicans and Democrats waged an election-year duel over who could seem most sincere about erasing federal deficits.
In a roll call that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., knew would fail but hoped would embarrass President Clinton and other Democrats, senators voted 64-35 for the proposal. That was two votes shy of the two-thirds margin required for approval of an amendment to the Constitution."The president vetoed a balanced budget. That's another reason we need an amendment," said Dole.
But Clinton, speaking just before the vote was complete, told reporters that lawmakers were rejecting "the gimmick of saying we're going to have a balanced budget amendment which would take forever and a day" to put into effect. He said he and Republicans should continue efforts to work out a budget-balancing deal, which is unlikely either this year.
The defeated amendment, which came within a single vote of passage in March 1995, would require a balanced federal budget by 2002. But it would leave decisions about how to do it for later - by the very politicians who have been stalemated over the issue for years.
When the Senate rejected the measure 15 months ago, Dole promised to bring the measure up again during this year's political campaign. And so he did, just five days before he resigns from the Senate to campaign full-time for the presidency.
Dole's strategy was simple. With polls showing 80 percent public support for the amendment, Republicans believe its defeat will strengthen the GOP bid for the White House and continued congressional control by embarrassing Democrats.
"It's not whether you win or lose, but whether you've made the statement," Dole said.
Fifty-two Republicans and 12 Democrats voted for the amendment, while 34 Democrats and one Republican - Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon - voted no. Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., did not vote.
Republicans said the amendment would provide the pressure needed to force lawmakers to find the savings needed to end the unrelenting string of shortfalls that have saddled the government since 1969. But Democrats argued that what is needed is a bipartisan agreement, not a change in the Constitution.