Hoyer explains flip on balanced-budget amendment as showing consistency

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer argued Tuesday that his current opposition to a balanced-budget amendment is perfectly consistent with his past support for similar legislation.

The Maryland Democrat said the political environment was much different in 1995, when he voted in favor of amending the Constitution to require Congress to balance its books each year. He blamed Republicans in the White House and Congress for since adopting "irresponsible" policies that he said make such an amendment unworkable now.

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"What I said in 1995 I absolutely agree with today," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. "Unfortunately, I did not contemplate the irresponsibility that I have seen fiscally over the last nine years, or eight years, of the Bush administration and Republican leadership of the House and the Senate, and this last few months where Republicans took America to the brink of default."

Hoyer pointed out that the Clinton administration was able to generate budget surpluses without a balanced budget amendment in place — surpluses that quickly turned to deficits under the Bush administration. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare's prescription drug benefit and a series of tax cuts — none of them offset elsewhere in the budget — all contributed to the last decade's explosion in deficit spending, he noted.

"I have, over the last 16 years, had a substantial erosion in my own confidence [in] the willingness of the other party to … get to balance, particularly paying for what they bought," Hoyer said.

The remarks arrive as GOP leaders have scheduled a vote this week on a bipartisan balanced-budget amendment (BBA) that would force Congress to pay the entirety of the government's tab each fiscal year.

The sponsors of the proposal, Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), announced Tuesday that their bill has "significant support" from both parties.

Democratic Reps. Mike McIntrye (N.C.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jim Costa (Calif.) and Jason Altmire (Pa.) — all members of the right-leaning Blue Dog Coalition – joined the announcement to show their support.

Hoyer, who's whipping Democrats against the measure, declined to guess Tuesday how many members of his caucus would break with leaders on the vote. He added, though, that it's "not likely" the proposal will win the two-thirds support needed to pass the lower chamber.

"It is not likely that it will get the requisite number of votes," Hoyer said.

Hoyer conceded that some Democrats in conservative-leaning districts face pressure to support the BBA. But he was quick to frame the vote as political gamesmanship by GOP leaders, arguing that the tougher votes are on specific offsets.

"It's not a tough vote to pretend that you're going to go for a balanced budget by having some amendment on the floor. What is tough is to pay for things," Hoyer said.

"If you want to fight a war, pay for it. If you want to have a prescription drug program, pay for it. If you want to have tax cuts, if you want to cut revenues, make sure that you have the guts to cut spending commensurate with those cuts in taxes," he added. "If you don't have that kind of courage, then don't criticize others for saying we need to pay for things."

Erik Wasson contributed.

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