The House has rejected a proposal to amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget, seen by many as the only way to force lawmakers to hold the fiscal line and reverse the flow of federal red ink. The 261-165 vote was 23 short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance a constitutional amendment. Democrats, swayed by the arguments of their leaders that a balanced budget requirement would force Congress to make devastating cuts to social programs, overwhelmingly voted against it. Four Republicans also voted against it.
Even if it had passed the House, the proposal had little chance of clearing the many political hurdles needed for enactment; constitutional amendments must get two-thirds majorities in both houses and be ratified by three-fourths of the states. But the vote gives both parties ammunition going into next year's elections. Republicans can say they were trying to put America's fiscal house in order, while Democrats can say they were defending the social programs. (Read more House Republicans stories.)