House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said he would vote against the balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution later this week, a high-profile Republican defection that will make it one vote harder for the GOP to find the 290 votes needed to pass their amendment on Friday.
Speaking on the House floor, Dreier said that while he supported an amendment in 1995, he has changed his mind, and now believes that Congress does not need to amend the Constitution in order to balance the budget. He said his 1995 vote was based on the belief that an amendment was the only way to balance the budget.
"What I found … is that we were able to balance the federal budget without touching that inspired document, the U.S. Constitution," said Dreier, a 16-term congressman and member of the GOP leadership who might be serving his final term.
Dreier has not announced a reelection bid, and redistricting in California could make his path to Congress more difficult. Many expect Dreier to retire if the new map is not thrown out in court because his new district's makeup would be difficult for a conservative Republican to win.
Dreier also said he now realizes an amendment could jeopardize the House's power of the purse, subjecting the budget process to legal battles that are decided by a court.
"Most have said that if we were to get into these protracted legal battles, this could end up in the court and we could have, several years from now, a court deliberating over a budget that had passed, again, literally, years before," he said.
Dreier also dismissed arguments that the issue of balancing the budget needs to be wrapped up in a constitutional amendment. By way of example, he said it is not inconsistent to be against burning the flag, and also be against a constitutional amendment barring flag burning.
Republicans will need nearly 50 Democrats to support the balanced-budget amendment in order to reach the 290 votes needed, and more than that depending on whether other Republicans oppose it.
Members were debating the rule for the amendment, H.J.Res. 2, which calls for five hours of debate that is expected to conclude on Friday. A vote on the rule is expected later on Thursday.