(CNSNews.com) - House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.), a leading spokesman for his party on fiscal issues, broke ranks with the House Republican leadership on Friday and voted against the constitutional balanced budget amendment that GOP leaders brought up for a vote on the House floor.
Ryan was one of only four Republicans to vote against the amendment. The other three were Rep. Louie Gohmert (R.-Texas), Rep. Justin Amash (R.-Mich.) and House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R.-Calif.).
Twenty-five House Democrats joined with 236 House Republicans in backing the amendment, which fell 29 votes short of the two-thirds majority a constitutional amendment needs for approval in the House.
“I’m concerned that this version will lead to a much bigger government fueled by more taxes,” Ryan said. “Spending is the problem, yet this version of the BBA makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow, and economic freedom will be diminished.
“Without a limit on government spending, I cannot support this amendment,” he said.
Rep. Gohmert also criticized the proposed amendment for not imposing a limit on federal spending.
"It's clear that if we pass a balanced budget amendment, without at least having a spending cap, then future Congresses will use its requirements to increase taxes in order to balance the budget," said Gohmert.
"It's troubling that our party felt compelled to strip down the amendment to attract Democratic votes, while acknowledging at the same time that it would not pass in the House and Senate," said Gohmert. "If this amendment is not going to pass, we need to do what we know is best and right and prepare the way to pass it after the next election."
Many conservatives have been critical of the version of the balanced budget amendment that the House Republican leadership decided to bring up for a vote because it does not cap spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product or require supermajorities in both houses of Congress to pass a tax increase.
Ryan's argument against the balanced budget amendment was similar to the argument made by Ed Meese, who served as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. Meese told CNSNews.com recently that a balanced budget amendment without a cap on spending or a supermajority requirement for tax increases would lead to bigger government and higher taxes.
“It would be used by those who seek to have an expanded government and increased taxes to make it mandatory to increase taxes,” said Meese. “It would make it much easier to raise taxes, and that’s why the important thing is to have a protection, for example, that it would take two-thirds of both houses in order to increase taxes … and, likewise, that there be some sort of a cap on expenditures, perhaps in relation to Gross Domestic Product.’
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who is the sponsor of a balanced budget amendment that does cap spending at 18 percent of GDP and that would require two-thirds majorities in both houses to increase taxes or lift the legal limit on the federal debt, told CNSNews.com that he believes a balanced budget amendment that lacked the spending cap and supermajority requirement for tax increases would lose Republican votes in the Senate.
Lee’s version of the amendment currently has the support of all 47 Republican senators.
The legislation that congressional leaders negotiated with President Barack Obama in August to increase the legal limit on the federal debt by as much as $2.4 trillion included a provision requiring both houses of Congress to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before the end of this year. It did not stipulate what kind of balanced budget amendment each chamber needed to bring up for a vote.
The balanced budget amendment considered in the House today received 261 yes votes and 165 no votes. Eight members did not vote.
Under Article 5 of the Constitution, a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress—290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate--to be sent to the states for ratification. It then requires ratification by three-fourths of the states--38 out of 50--to become part of the Constitution.