WASHINGTON Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, voted Friday against a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
In an interview after the vote, Mr. Owens said he concluded that the proposed amendment brings a tremendous amount of uncertainty to the north country, including Fort Drum, given the deep program cuts it would require and the restrictions on deficit spending during national emergencies such as a recession.
It would be to my mind a bad economic idea, Mr. Owens said.
He had been undecided on the measure until the day of the vote, although earlier in the day he cited comments by Rep. David Dreier of California, the Republican chairman of the House Rules Committee, that the government was able to balance its budget during the Bill Clinton administration without such a constitutional requirement.
The measure failed, falling short of the 284 votes needed to pass under suspension of the rules. The vote was 261-165.
Mr. Owens said he had seen no economists endorse the idea of forcing the government, by constitutional decree, to balance the budget. Before he could agree to such a proposal, he said, he would want to know that the government has a capital spending program, for instance, as many state and local governments do.
In the days leading up the vote, Mr. Owens said, he was approached by Republican lawmakers who were crafting various versions. The one the House rejected was from Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., with whom Mr. Owens said he visited.
Republican lawmakers visits with Mr. Owens were an indication not only of their need for votes from across the aisle but of their perception that Mr. Owens, as a moderate, might be inclined to support a balanced budget requirement.
They were very pleasant conversations, Mr. Owens said.
The issue is bound to play into the campaign in the 23rd Congressional District. Earlier in the week, his GOP challenger, Matthew A. Doheny, said he supports the amendment.
We need to have a structural change of how government works when it comes to revenue and comes to spending, Mr. Doheny said.
Mr. Doheny said he supports a spending cap of 18 percent of gross domestic product and a supermajority vote in Congress to raise taxes.
I think we have an opportunity, Mr. Doheny said. We have an open window here.