This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) that would have expressed support for a U.S. constitutional amendment requiring the federal government to balance its budget. This amendment was offered to legislation overhauling the federal patent system.
Lee urged support for his amendment: “All this amendment does is call on members of the Senate to come forward and say they support the idea. By voting in favor of this amendment, they do not have to embrace any particular balanced budget amendment proposal. But what they do say is that they want the wasteful Washington spending to stop, they want the perpetual deficit spending practice to stop, and they want us to stop the practice of mortgaging the future of coming generations. This is immoral, it is unwise, and it ought to be illegal. Soon it will be. With this amendment, we will set in motion a sequence of events that will lead to just that.
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) opposed the amendment: “The immediate result of a balanced budget amendment would be devastating cuts in education, homeland security, public safety, health care and research, transportation and other vital services. Any cuts made to accommodate a mandated balanced budget would fall most heavily on domestic discretionary programs, but ultimately, there would be no way to achieve a balanced budget without cuts in Social Security and other entitlement programs as well. A balanced budget amendment would likely disproportionately affect unemployed and low-income Americans.”
The vote on this amendment was 58-40. All 47 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted “yea.” 40 Democrats—including a majority of progressives--voted “nay.” Although a majority of senators voted in favor of this amendment, a unanimous consent agreement (literally, an agreement reached by all senators) required this amendment to receive 60 votes for passage. Thus, the amendment failed. As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have expressed support for an amendment to the U.S. constitution requiring the federal government to balance its budget.