WASHINGTON -- The latest Republican push for a balanced budget amendment that would force massive spending cuts to the country's social safety net died in the House of Representatives Friday, brought down by lawmakers who argued Congress can balance the budget on its own.
Requiring a two-thirds majority to pass under the Constitution, the measure failed 261-165, with several Republicans voting with the majority of Democrats against the amendment.
Analysts had warned that instituting the proposed balanced-budget requirements would likely force cuts of greater that 17 percent within seven years of the amendment's ratification. Such cuts could mean slashing Social Security by $1.2 trillion and Medicare by $750 billion by 2022, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Friday vote was held as part of the compromise to hike the nation's debt limit this past summer -- a deal that also produced the deficit-cutting super committee that now seems deadlocked.
With the nation's debt surpassing $15 trillion this week and exceeding $1 trillion annually for several years, conservatives thought they had a chance to pass the amendment, but even some Republicans opposed it -- most prominently, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), who said that Congress had proved it didn't need to change the Constitution to even the books when it balanced budgets during the Clinton administration.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also voted against the amendment, arguing that it was not stringent enough.
Republicans argued that both parties had a spending addiction, but that now they were getting serious, and the amendment would be a "last line of defense" to preserve the nation's fiscal standing.
Democrats responded that all the amendment would do is damage the social fabric of the country and give courts and constitutional lawyers the final say over spending instead of Congress. They blamed Republicans for creating the problem in the first place by passing the Bush-era tax cuts without offsetting the lost revenue.
"You gave away a lot of money, and you didn't pay for it," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) argued just before the final tally.
"It's unfortunate that Democrats still don't recognize the urgency of stopping Washington's job-crushing spending binge," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a statement immediately after the vote.
Boehner also fired a political shot at President Barack Obama, whose recent mantra has been that Congress must pass his jobs bill without delay. "It's disappointing that a president who says 'we can't wait' to take action on jobs is doing just that: waiting, riding things out until the election, and skipping opportunities to work together with Republicans to create a better environment for job growth," Boehner said.
Even though the House vote effectively kills the balanced budget amendment for this year, the deal that raised the debt ceiling also calls for the Senate to hold a similar vote.
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