Although they face likely defeat, Senate Republicans are determined not to accept Democratic amendments to the balanced budget constitutional amendment to gain votes, but instead will press Democrats to change their position, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said late Wednesday.
Hatch's comments came after Sen. Robert Torricelli, D- N.J., considered to be the deciding Senate vote on the BBA, announced he will oppose Hatch's version.
"I think we have to change the votes," Hatch told reporters. "There is no way we will change the amendment if we can avoid it at this point." Hatch said accepting any Democratic amendments, such as one that would exempt the Social Security trust fund from balanced budget calculations, actually would cost supporters votes. "We know if we change it, we'll lose it," he said. Hatch called Democratic amendments "charades," adding, "Every one of them would make it impossible to balance the budget."
Hatch and Republican aides said the Senate still is scheduled to vote on the BBA Tuesday and there is no plan to pull it. They said, however, it is not clear whether Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., will change his vote at the last minute, in order to allow him to bring the BBA to the floor later on a motion to reconsider the vote. Then-Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole took such action during the 104th Congress.
Hatch said it is possible that Republicans might persuade a Democratic opponent in the Senate to switch his or her vote. "We still have a few possibilities," Hatch said. "I don't want to mislead you. It's uphill." While he would not name them, Hatch said he has two opponents in mind who might be convinced to switch.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., late Wednesday told CongressDaily no decision has been made on whether to bring the BBA to the House floor, even if it is defeated in the Senate. "I don't have any thoughts on it yet," Gingrich said. "We're waiting to see what happens."
According to CongressDaily's latest telephone survey results, 252 House members (200 Republicans and 52 Democrats) as of now publicly support H.J.Res.1, the Schaefer- Stenholm version of the BBA. Two-thirds of the House, or 289 votes, is needed for approval. Publicly opposing the measure are 119 House members (two Republicans, 116 Democrats and one independent).
Following Torricelli's announcement, Hatch, the floor manager of the constitutional amendment, clearly was upset.
"This battle reminds me of a toothache I once had," he told reporters, saying he is "terribly disappointed."
Hatch said he did not want to judge Torricelli, but cited the New Jersey Democrat's 1996 campaign comments implying he would vote for the BBA, as he did in the House.
"Those statements are hard to get around," Hatch said. "But I'm not going to judge my colleague. He has to make his own decisions."
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said bluntly, "I'd hate to have to explain to people if I were Torricelli."
Torricelli defended his decision, telling reporters his campaign promise "does not mean I feel bound to vote for every version [of the BBA] that comes to the floor."
He said he believes the burden necessary to amend the Constitution has not been met. Furthermore, Torricelli said he believes if he had decided to support the BBA, another Democratic opponent would have emerged. "Had I not done this, I believe that there were other votes available," he said.
And he added he had not expected to be the deciding vote, saying, "I was led to believe by some of my colleagues that they were making different decisions at different times."
President Clinton Wednesday commended Torricelli for his decision.
"I have made clear my concerns about the balanced budget amendment and I am pleased that Sen. Torricelli has made the difficult decision to oppose that measure," Clinton said. "Now it's time to get on with the hard work of balancing the budget."
Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said the expected defeat of the constitutional amendment will make it more difficult to enforce any kind of balanced budget agreement, contending, "It's going to be very difficult to stay in balance without a constitutional amendment."
Adam Rappaport and Mary Ann Akers contributed to this report.