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The U.S. House of Representatives rejected a proposal Friday to amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget, seen by many as the only way to force lawmakers to hold the fiscal line and reverse the flow of federal red ink.

The 261-165 vote, though a clear majority, was 23 votes short of the two-thirds required to advance a constitutional amendment. Democrats voted overwhelmingly against it, apparently swayed by the arguments of their leaders that a balanced budget requirement would force Congress to make devastating cuts to social programs.