Hochul Splits with Party on Balanced Budget Amendment

3:04 PM, Nov 19, 2011   |    comments
Rep. Kathy Hochul (D)
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Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul of the Buffalo area joined New York's eight House Republicans Friday in an unsuccessful effort to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

Friday's 261-165 vote fell 23 short of the number needed for passage. It needed support from 284 lawmakers, or two-thirds of those present and voting.

Hochul, a former clerk of Erie County who won a special election in May, characterized the proposal as "a bipartisan solution'' to the nation's "serious debt problem.''

The proposal, authored by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, would have required that spending in any fiscal year not exceed revenues unless three-fifths of the members of each chamber of Congress voted for an override.

It also would have required a three-fifths vote in each chamber to increase the nation's borrowing limit.

"This would ensure that the budget remains balanced while allowing Congress the flexibility to adequately respond in times of war, national emergencies, natural disasters, or other crises,'' Hochul said.

Twenty-four Democrats from other states also broke with their party to support the proposed constitutional amendment.

Freshman Republican Rep. Richard Hanna of Oneida County posted his reason for supporting the amendment proposal on his Facebook page.

"Our debt has been a long time in the making, but spending and deficits over the last three years have accelerated debt at an unprecedented pace,'' Hanna said. "Forty-nine states already have some form of a balanced budget requirement.''

Many Democrats warned that the proposed amendment either wasn't necessary or could eventually lead to draconian spending cuts.

"There may be times in the future when we need to run a surplus,'' said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx. "There may be times when we need to run a deficit to stimulate the economy. This amendment handcuffs us in a straitjacket where we have nowhere to move.''

The 20 New York Democrats who opposed the proposal included nine veteran lawmakers who voted against a proposed balanced budget amendment in 1995, including Engel and Reps. Louise Slaughter of Fairport, Maurice Hinchey of Ulster County, and Nita Lowey of Harrison.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also opposed the amendment while serving in the House.

In the 1995 vote, when pressure to enact a constitutional balanced budget amendment was at a peak, dozens of House Democrats joined with a Republican majority in a 300-132 vote to send the amendment to the Senate.

But the proposal fell short in the Senate -- it came within one vote of passing once -- during repeated attempts in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Among the supporters was then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

Pressure to pass the amendment eased following a 1997 agreement to cut the deficit and after the government ran a budget surplus from 1998 to 2001.

Although deficit spending returned during the administration of President George W. Bush, Republican leaders did not renew their pressure to enact the amendment until this year.

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