OGDEN -- Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Wednesday's defeat of the latest version of his constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget was expected, but there's no other way to bring federal spending under control.
Democrats claim balancing the budget should be the job of Congress, Hatch said in a telephone news conference with mostly Utah reporters.
But he said that will never happen because, "in Washington here, this godforsaken town has proved it won't solve its problems on its own."
So, he said, "to me, the responsible way to respond to the American people is through a constitutional amendment. Today we lost, we knew we were going to lose, but the fact is, we had to try. Great battles have to be fought whether you win or lose."
In the same conference call, he denounced President Barack Obama as someone who "wants to raise taxes on everything that walks, talks or drinks water."
He said a Democratic-sponsored balanced budget amendment that also failed Wednesday was "a pathetic eyewash. It wasn't a balanced budget amendment at all. They excluded a lot of things that have put us in debt in the first place."
Hatch's proposed amendment already failed in the House. It would require a two-thirds vote for Congress to agree to spend more than it takes in or to raise taxes, and would cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product.
That is 6 percentage points less than the current level. It would also prohibit the courts from forcing Congress to raise taxes to balance the budget.
The Democratic proposal, sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., would let Congress override budget restrictions more easily and would make it more difficult for Congress to cut taxes.
It would have prohibited Congress from cutting income taxes on those making more than $1 million and protected Social Security by taking the trust fund off the books and prohibiting a court from ordering that Congress reduce benefits.
Hatch's amendment failed 53-47. The Democratic alternative failed by a 21-79 vote, with 31 Democrats voting against it.
A constitutional amendment needs a two-thirds vote to pass each house of Congress, and three-fourths of the states have to approve it.
In a way, Hatch said, he did win a small victory.
"This is the first time -- of all of the balanced budget amendments I've brought to the floor -- this is the first time we had all Republicans on board, all 47 of us."
Hatch has sponsored or co-sponsored the balanced budget amendment 17 times over the years.
His amendment, he said, even restricts taking on new debt in the event of war if the war is not declared.
Despite the Constitution's clear mandate that only Congress can involve the nation in a war, Congress has not declared war since World War II.
Asked if the nation's ability to wage war without a congressional declaration means Congress will find ways around the balanced budget amendment, Hatch said no.
"Generally, Congress has passed a bill that authorizes military efforts. That's what they did with the fight against al-Qaida," he said, referring to Congressional resolutions supporting the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
"But you can't get around it here. It's specific. ... If you're not going to declare a war, then you've got to have it (spending approval) by three-fifths vote."
He said a five-year wait before the amendment would take effect should allow Congress time to cut spending or otherwise balance the budget.
He said one way to do that would be to correct the imbalance of having more than half of all wage earners not paying any income taxes.
People who pay no income taxes usually do so because their income is so low that standard deductions for their children reduce their taxable income to zero.
"I'm not suggesting that all of the bottom 51 percent of our wage earners should be paying taxes," he said, "but everybody should have some skin in the game."