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House rejects balanced budget amendment

By Alan Silverleib, CNN
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri November 18, 2011
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a balanced budget amendment.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a balanced budget amendment.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The GOP-controlled House rejects a balanced budget amendment
  • Republicans insist the measure is needed to control spending
  • Democrats accuse the GOP of reckless political posturing

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Washington (CNN) -- The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Friday rejected a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution -- a setback to GOP leaders and conservative activists who claim the measure is necessary to end the federal government's spiraling deficit spending.

A total of 261 members voted for the measure --- 23 votes shy of the two-thirds majority required for passage -- while 165 members opposed it.

Most Republicans supported the measure; most Democrats voted no.

The vote on the amendment was agreed to by both parties over the summer as part of the agreement raising Washington's debt ceiling. Democratic leaders, however, are vehemently opposed to the idea, arguing that it would force the government into an economically destructive cycle of massive spending cuts.

Sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, the measure would have required three-fifths of both chambers of Congress to sign off on any future deficit spending. The amendment's requirements could have been waived in the event of a declaration of war.

"The American people are demanding action," Goodlatte said earlier this month. "They know that it is crucial we rein in the skyrocketing deficit spending that is discouraging investment and threatening to bankrupt our nation."

Shortly before the vote, Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, called Congress "hopelessly addicted to excessive spending and budget deficits" and said opponents of the amendment "are hopelessly in denial, just like a drug addict is in denial about their addiction."

Fleming's comments prompted a retort from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois, who said, "I am addicted to saving lives. I am addicted to making sure that Social Security is not violently cut by the balanced budget amendment."

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, also blasted the proposal on the House floor, accusing Republicans of engaging in political posturing by pushing measures like the balanced budget amendment while failing to support spending plans that would actually bring the government's finances under control.

"Don't talk about it. Just do it," Hoyer said Thursday. "Don't cut taxes and increase spending. Don't just preach fiscal responsibility. Practice it. It will take no courage to vote for this amendment, but it will take courage to balance our budget by paying for what we buy."

Despite the proposal's defeat, it remains heavily favored by the public. Nearly three in four Americans favored passage of the amendment in a July 18-20 CNN/ORC International Poll, while only 24% were opposed.

Sixty percent of Americans believe a balanced budget amendment is necessary to get the deficit under control, according to the poll.

The House passed a balanced budget amendment in 1995, but the measure fell one vote short in the Senate in both 1995 and 1997.

CNN's Virginia Nicolaidis and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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