Off Balance

In a decision that could kill the balanced budget constitutional amendment, freshman Sen. Robert Torricelli, D- N.J., this afternoon announced he will oppose the main version of the amendment.

Torricelli, whose vote was considered the deciding one by both Republican and Democratic vote counters, announced his decision after the Senate on a 63-37 vote rejected his amendment to allow the creation of a capital budget and make it easier to waive the amendment's requirements in time of economic or national security emergencies.

"The balanced budget amendment has good aspects," Torricelli told reporters. "It simply is not good enough."

Torricelli's decision left Senate Republican leaders scurrying to try to find another Democrat who might be willing to change his or her vote; there are currently 66 senators who have indicated they will support the GOP-sponsored amendment, one short of the needed two-thirds majority. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Tuesday he might have a vote in reserve if needed. "We'll have to keep working," Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said after learning of Torricelli's decision. He said he has two senators in mind whom he might try to convince to change their votes.

Pressure on Torricelli had mounted since Tuesday, when Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., announced she would vote for the version of the amendment proposed by Hatch.

GOP leaders continually cited Torricelli's previous support for the balanced budget amendment and his comments throughout his recent campaign that he supported the constitutional amendment. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he voted to send the constitutional amendment to the floor, but said that he wanted changes to be made. And in a floor speech today on his amendment, Torricelli said the Hatch version should be changed to make it easier to waive in times of war or economic recession.

"I have absolutely no regrets for having voted for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution on three different occasions," Torricelli told reporters.

The future of the balanced budget amendment in the House remained unclear. House Majority Leader Armey said Tuesday that he would not guarantee that it would be brought to the floor if the Senate defeats it. Republican leaders delayed House consideration of the amendment because it was considered in more trouble in the House than in the Senate and they hoped Senate passage would provide them with the momentum needed for House approval.

Earlier, sources said negotiations between House Republican leaders and a group of GOP members trying to protect Social Security under a balanced budget amendment were making some progress. The group -- which includes Reps. Mark Neumann, R- Wis., Mark Souder, R-Ind., and Jon Fox, R-Pa. -- has been trying to hammer out language in discussions with Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., on either a legislative solution or additional wording in the constitutional amendment.

The group wants any alternative to have more teeth than a simple "Sense of the Congress" resolution, and discussions have revolved around a Neumann plan to prevent Social Security funds from being used in other parts of the budget.

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