WASHINGTON — A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is the only way to restrain free-spending lawmakers, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said today.

The Maine Republican delivered the national Republican address given each Saturday as a counterpoint to President Obama’s weekly address.

In his address, President Obama focused on GOP opposition to White House proposals for jobs bills and a Social Security payroll tax cut extension paid for with an income tax surcharge on millionaires.

Obama said the economy is growing and adding jobs “despite some strong headwinds this year,” citing a report that the economy added 140,000 private sector jobs in November.

Obama said “now is the time to step on the gas, not slam on the brakes. Unfortunately, too many Republicans in Congress don’t seem to share that same sense of urgency.”

In the GOP address, Snowe said a balanced budget amendment vote expected this month in the Senate “represents a choice between changing business as usual in Washington, or embracing the status quo that we can no longer afford.”

The House last month failed to pass a balanced budget amendment, falling 23 votes short of the required two-thirds majority.

Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, voted against the amendment. Michaud said then that he favors a balanced budget amendment but thought the House version could mean harsh cuts to programs like Social Security.

The Senate still is to vote on the measure because a vote this year by both chambers was part of the agreement to raise the debt ceiling reached this summer. The amendment is considered unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Snowe, a longtime proponent of a balanced budget amendment, noted that the congressional supercommittee failed to reach a deficit reduction agreement this fall. She said the automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion over 10 years supposed to be triggered by that failure might not occur.

“Even the automatic cuts resulting from the supercommittee’s failure to reach an agreement could all be undone by this or any future Congress – unless we pass a balanced budget amendment like those already adopted by 49 other states, which will bind each successive Congress in perpetuity,” Snowe said.

Snowe added that many lawmakers don’t want a balanced budget amendment because, “They don’t want their hands tied; they want to continue to spend without restraint.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also is a balanced budget amendment proponent. Collins was the sole Republican Thursday to vote in favor of the Senate Democrats’ payroll tax cut extension plan.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

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