Balanced Budget Battle Begins

Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin today said the Clinton Administration intends to "energetically and forcefully" lobby Congress in opposition to the balanced budget constitutional amendment.

"I've already been talking to members," Rubin said following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the amendment. Rubin said he is not convinced the amendment will pass, telling reporters, "I believe the outcome is still uncertain." Rubin declined to say whether he believes the House or the Senate is more likely to approve the controversial amendment.

Supporters and opponents have said administration lobbying could make a big difference, particularly in the House, where freshman Democrats may provide the pivotal votes. Rubin said he is concerned many people are confusing opposition to the balanced budget amendment with opposition to a balanced budget plan. He declined to say if the Administration will lobby state legislatures if Congress approves the amendment and sends it to the states.

Rubin and Judiciary panel Republicans clashed over the amendment, in particular over the hot-button issue of whether Social Security would be protected or if payments to recipients could be halted if the budget is not balanced.

"I have an equally strong conviction ... that a balanced budget amendment is a threat to our economic health, will expose our economy to unacceptable risks and should not be adopted," Rubin contended. He said even if Social Security is protected in implementing language, the constitutional amendment stands first in the legislative "pecking order," adding, "We ought not ... subject Social Security to the threat."

However, Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, "I can't imagine who wouldn't protect Social Security." But freshman Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. -- who replaced former Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., the leading Democratic proponent of a balanced budget amendment -- said, "We put Social Security at risk with this version of a balanced budget amendment." Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who opposed the amendment last year, said she and several other Democrats will oppose the current version, but could back a version that explicitly protects Social Security.

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