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Republicans draft balanced budget amendment

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Five Senate Republicans plan to push for an amendment to the Constitution that would require a balanced federal budget, aides said on Wednesday.

A number of such efforts have failed over the years. But backers are hopeful this one will succeed because of a major effort to trim the federal deficit, due to reach a record $1.65 trillion this year -- equivalent to 10.9 percent of the U.S. economy.

"This is a different time, and it may be the time," a senior Republican aide said.

Assistant Senate Republican Leader Jon Kyl is a co-sponsor of the proposed balanced budget amendment, along with Senators Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee, John Cornyn and Pat Toomey, aides said.

They had scheduled a news conference for Thursday to unveil their measure, but postponed it late on Wednesday. An aide cited scheduling conflicts and a desire to attract more support in the Democratic-led Senate.

The aide said they would likely reschedule the news conference for after a weeklong recess set to begin on Friday.

Dan Ripp of Bradley Woods, a private firm that tracks Washington for investors, said, "The whole thing is a long shot."

To become law, proposed constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds majority votes in the House and the Senate, and then ratified by three-quarters of the 50 states.

"The framers (of the Constitution) designed the amendment process to be difficult on purpose," Ripp said.

Under the Republican senators' proposed amendment, according to a congressional source, the requirement for a balanced budget would go into effect five years after ratification.

The source said it would permit waivers during a time of war, provided a majority of both the House and Senate agree to it.

In a nod to anti-tax conservatives, it would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to raise taxes, the source said.

LAST AMENDMENT PASSED IN 1992

Currently, there is nothing prohibiting Congress from passing balanced budgets, or the president from proposing them. The budget was last balanced -- with a surplus -- during the final two years of the 1993-2001 administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Since the Constitution was ratified in 1789 as the supreme law of the land, just 27 amendments have been approved, the last in 1992.

A balanced budget amendment passed the Republican-led House in 1995 but fell just short of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate.

A similar balanced-budget amendment has been introduced in the Republican-led House of Representatives this year. Unlike the pending Senate version, it enjoys broad bipartisan support.

"Chances of passage are much better in the House," said Kellen Giuda of Balanced Budget Amendment Now, a coalition of more than 150 groups, including a number of organizations in the conservative Tea Party movement.

Senate prospects may come down to more than a dozen Democratic senators up for re-election next year, Giuda said.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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