The four members of the Kansas delegation to the U.S. House, all of whom are Republicans, voted Thursday in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required the federal government to balance its budget each year.
The measure, however, failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority needed for passage. The final vote, 233-184, fell largely along party lines, but it was 59 votes short of the required supermajority.
Only six Republicans voted against the measure, while only seven Democrats voted in favor of it.
"As I’ve said previously, Congress’s budgeting process is profoundly broken and needs (to be) reformed to serve our nation better," 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins said in a statement. "Until the process is reformed and Congress gets serious about addressing long-term mandatory spending programs, this path toward insolvency will remain. The balanced budget amendment is one way to force Congress to actually address the real drivers of our debt."
Jenkins has announced she is not running for re-election this year.
The proposed amendment would have provided that "(t)otal outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that year," unless three-fifths of both the House and Senate vote to approve the excess spending.
The limit would not have applied to money the federal government pays toward the principal and interest it owes on its existing debt, which now stands at more than $21 trillion, according to an organization called the National Debt Clock.
It also would have provided that the amendment could be waived with a simple majority vote in both chambers during any year in which a declaration of war is in effect, or when the United States is engaged in a military conflict that poses "an imminent and serious military threat to national security."
During debate on the measure, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., criticized that provision of the amendment, noting that the U.S. has been engaged in some kind of military action nearly every year since the end of World War II. Still, he ended up voting in favor of it.
Supporters of the measure argued that the growing national debt will pose a severe financial burden on future generations. They also noted that nearly all state governments operate under similar requirements for balanced budgets.
Many Democrats, on the other hand, criticized Republicans for even proposing such an amendment so soon after the GOP majority in Congress passed large federal tax cuts, followed by a $1.3 trillion spending bill for the current fiscal year, both of which, they argued, will create even larger deficits in future years.
Passage of the amendment, they argued, would force deep cuts in programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Before the vote, 4th District Rep. Ron Estes spoke from the floor of the House, saying the federal government still needs to rein in its spending, especially on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
“Hard-working Kansans have to balance their checkbooks every month. I don’t think the federal government should get a pass," Estes said. "This proposal is a great start, but I’m also calling on the president and Congress to implement rescissions to our budget, which will work toward our overall goal of fiscal responsibility and stability.”
First District Rep. Roger Marshall issued a statement saying he was disappointed in the vote.
“I am not a career politician; my hospital and businesses always operated on a strictly held budget, we saved and we crunched the numbers,” Marshall, a practicing physician, said in the statement. “Many state governments, including Kansas, operate on a Balanced Budget structure. The federal government can no longer afford to act as if budgets don’t apply to them."
Third District Rep. Kevin Yoder did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.