In The Balance

Setting up a dramatic announcement today by the lone Democratic holdout, the Senate Tuesday night defeated an amendment that would have exempted Social Security from balanced budget calculations, a proposal that Democrats say would have guaranteed passage of the balanced budget constitutional amendment.

The Senate's 55-44 defeat of the Social Security amendment by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the announcement by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., that she will support the BBA ensures that the decision of whether the constitutional amendment passes lies in the hands of freshman Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., who remained uncharacteristically mum about his decision Tuesday evening. Landrieu's announcement means 66 senators now publicly support the BBA; 67 are needed for approval.

Torricelli is slated to hold a news conference later this afternoon. Many Democrats Tuesday speculated Torricelli will announce his opposition to the balanced budget amendment, even though he voted for it while a House member. And while senators contended they did not know how the New Jersey Democrat plans to vote, a key opponent of the Republican balanced budget amendment, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said, "I have a feeling we may win this again." A final Senate vote on the constitutional amendment is scheduled for next Tuesday.

Democrats had said they could guarantee that the constitutional amendment would receive at least 70 votes if the Social Security amendment passed. "The only way to protect Social Security ... is the way we are doing it," Reid said on the Senate floor.

However, Republicans have argued the Social Security exemption would create a large loophole. Senate Judiciary Chairman Hatch Tuesday said Social Security can compete better than any other program in battles for federal funding. Two Republicans, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, voted for the Social Security exemption. Two Democrats, Sens. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Charles Robb of Virginia -voted against it.

Republicans conceded the final vote may come down to Torricelli, although Senate Majority Leader Lott held out the possibility he may have a surprise senator who may change his or her vote.

"There's more than one senator considering how he will vote on final passage," Lott told reporters.

Asked whether Lott could be holding a vote in his back pocket if he needs it, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, one of the bill's managers, said, "I've never underestimated the ability of the majority leader."

And while Republicans have said they do not want to make changes to the balanced budget amendment, GOP leaders have reserved spots for four amendments to be offered on the floor to the constitutional amendment.

Republicans attempted to apply pressure on Torricelli Tuesday, citing his previous support.

Craig said Torricelli made the balanced budget one of the major issues in his campaign and that he voted for it three times. He said President Clinton may be trying to create a "fig leaf" for Torricelli by announcing the creation of a federal panel on capital budgeting.

Torricelli's New Jersey Senate colleague, Democrat Frank Lautenberg, said he is unsure of how the freshman will vote.

"I hope he'll join those of us against it," Lautenberg said, while declining to predict his colleague's vote.

"I'm not good at predicting these things," he added.

White House officials, meanwhile, did not take Landrieu's decision as a defeat.

"I think she made a principled decision based on what she felt was in the best interests of her constituents. She is a very strong believer in the balanced budget. So is the president of the United States, and we look forward to working with her as we actually balance the budget," White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry said.

"It's obviously going to be a very close vote, and we will continue to work hard to express our point of view," he said.

Mary Ann Akers also contributed to this report.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.