WASHINGTON — Senate leaders abruptly postponed an expected vote Wednesday on a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget after 1991 when opponents of the amendment claimed that they had enough votes to block it.
Defeat of the amendment in the Republican-controlled Senate would mark a dramatic reversal from four years ago, when the Senate mustered a 69-31 majority--more than the necessary two-thirds--to approve the measure. The amendment then died in the Democratic-controlled House.
A Senate defeat this year would spell a significant defeat for the White House, which has lobbied vigorously for the amendment.
34 Senators Opposed
Sen. Daniel J. Evans (R-Wash.), a leading opponent of the amendment, said that 34 senators--just enough to block the amendment--are committed to opposing it. An aide to the Senate Republican leadership, which is working for it, characterized the margin as "razor-thin."
Although opponents had pressed for the vote Wednesday, Evans said, "the proponents want to put it off and that's a pretty clear indication they have the same vote count we do." The vote is now expected to occur late this month.
Evans said that support for the amendment has waned in part because of the passage of the new Gramm-Rudman law, which would force automatic spending cuts if Congress could not produce budgets that met a series of declining deficit targets leading to a balanced budget in 1991.
"There is a recognition that you can't substitute a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution for the necessary political will to budget responsibly," Evans said.
Democrats to Vote
Separately, as Congress continued its struggle to shape the fiscal 1987 budget, House Democrats scheduled a vote for today on President Reagan's proposed budget.
Reagan's budget, which would make deep cuts in domestic spending while allowing the Pentagon's budget to grow 8% beyond inflation, has found little favor on Capitol Hill. The Senate Budget Committee last week overwhelmingly rejected the spending plan and it almost certainly will fare even worse in the House.
House Republicans ridiculed the upcoming vote as "Democratic shenanigans" aimed at embarrassing Reagan. They said most GOP House members will vote "present" rather than endorsing or rejecting the White House spending blueprint.
Difficult Balancing Act
In the Senate, Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) continued private negotiations to produce a budget that could win a committee majority. Domenici has already announced that, despite Reagan's pledge not to raise taxes, the committee package will include significant amounts of new revenues.
Several sources close to the negotiations said that Domenici faces a difficult balancing act. To persuade conservative committee Republicans to go along with the new taxes, he will probably have to provide growth in defense. But that could lose votes from Democrats, who want to use any additional revenues to insulate domestic programs from proposed cuts.
"We still have a lot of problems," Domenici said.