WASHINGTON – Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine says he favors a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution — but will vote against one this week because it could mean harsh cuts to programs like Social Security.

The decision by Michaud, D-2nd District, shows that House Republicans could have a tough time rounding up the two-thirds majority needed to pass the constitutional amendment.

Michaud is a member of the conservative Blue Dog coalition of House Democrats, and Republicans are hoping to persuade Democrats like him to vote for the amendment.

A number of Blue Dogs have declared their support for the amendment, but Michaud isn’t persuaded.

“Amending the Constitution is a very serious undertaking, and it’s important it’s done right,” Michaud said via email. “I’ve long supported a balanced-budget amendment, but this latest version falls short.”

Republicans will try to make Michaud’s vote a campaign issue next year.

“Michaud has proven what everyone already knew — that he’s not really a Blue Dog and clearly has no desire to clean up Washington’s fiscal mess or get our economy back on track,” said Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

But Michaud said he is “not going to support a change to our Constitution just because it would make for a good talking point. This bill just doesn’t measure up.”

Michaud said he is a co-sponsor of two different balanced-budget amendment proposals. One of them is a Democrat-authored version that protects Social Security from cuts. Michaud also backs a version by GOP Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan that uses a three-year revenue average, which Michaud says “would take into account economic swings and not tie our country’s hands if we face a future recession.”

The balanced-budget amendment that House GOP leaders plan to bring to the floor today and vote on by Friday would prevent Congress from spending more than the revenue it receives, except when three-fifths of the House and Senate vote to do so.

House Republican leaders didn’t include a requirement for a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, though, in an effort to win the votes of moderate Democrats like Michaud.

Many Republicans say that without a constitutional mandate, Congress is not capable of reining in spending and producing a balanced federal budget each year.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said she doesn’t see the need for an amendment at all.

“Republicans say we need to run the government like a household budget. But the truth is, families often borrow money to send their kids to college or buy a house,” Pingree said Wednesday in an email. “At tough economic times like this, the country has to borrow to invest in those things that can grow our economy and create jobs.”

Having votes on a balanced budget amendment — the first in Congress since 1997 — was part of the deal earlier this year to raise the debt ceiling. The House vote comes against the backdrop of a bipartisan “supercommittee” of 12 lawmakers nearing a Nov. 23 deadline to agree on another part of the debt ceiling deal: a plan to slash at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

Even if the House passes the amendment, it faces a steep climb to gain a two-thirds majority in the Democrat-controlled Senate. A constitutional amendment also must be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures.

In 1995, a balanced-budget amendment passed the House but failed in the Senate, with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in her first year in the Senate, voting in favor. In 1997, Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in her first year in the Senate, both voted for a failed balanced-budget amendment.

Collins and Snowe remain balanced-budget advocates, favoring a proposal by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that contains the requirement for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

Collins would support the House GOP version that doesn’t require the two-thirds majority to raise taxes if that reached the Senate floor instead of Hatch’s proposal, her spokesman said Wednesday.

Snowe said Wednesday via an email that “as a longtime champion of the balanced-budget amendment, I know how difficult it is to achieve consensus on this critically important matter. So I will support what the House sends to the Senate, because the future prosperity of our nation depends on it.”


MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or [email protected]