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By Sean Gorman June 30, 2014

Warner has changed stance on balanced budget amendment

U.S. Republican senate candidate Ed Gillespie is accusing Democratic incumbent Mark Warner of switching positions on a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

A web video released by Gillespie’s campaign shows a montage of two contrasting statements Warner has made over the years as evidence the Democrat has "promised Virginians one thing on the campaign trail and changed his position in Washington."

The video starts with footage from Warner’s unsuccessful a 1996 campaign to unseat incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Warner. During a debate that summer, Mark Warner was asked to name issues on which he disagreed with his party and then-President Bill Clinton.

"I also believe we need a constitutional amendment balancing the budget," Warner said.  "For too long Congress, even though politician after politician makes promises that we’ll balance the budget soon, year after year the deficit goes up. I think we need constitutional amendment to balance that budget, and we need it now."

The video contrasts that statement, which Warner echoed throughout that campaign, to comments he made during a April 2011 interview with CNN. The Democrat had been elected to the Senate in 2008 and, a month prior to the interview, voted against a Republican bill for a balanced budget amendment.

"Listen, I was a governor. We had to balance our budgets," Warner told CNN. "I don’t think a federal balanced budget amendment gets us where we need to be."

Supporters of the balanced budget amendment have long maintained that the provision would mandate spending discipline by Congress.  Opponents say a balanced budget can’t be achieved without painful tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts, including to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

David Turner, Warner’s campaign spokesman, acknowledged that the senator’s position on the amendment has changed, but said it’s old news.

The turning point, he said, came shortly after Warner became governor in 2002 and took charge of a state government that had its own balanced budget requirement. Despite that constitutional amendment, the state was emerging from recession and faced massive budget shortfalls because of low revenues and a car tax cut ushered in by the previous administration.

Warner and the General Assembly balanced the budgets through spending cuts and tax increases and, when the economy improved later in his term, the state budget ended up in surplus.

Warner told CNN in 2011 that he is convinced that when it comes to managing federal finances, long-term bipartisan planning is a superior way to lowering debt than a balanced budget amendment.

Warner, during his first term, has led a group of senators seeking a bipartisan agreement to lowering deficits through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

We couldn’t find any record of Warner weighing in on a balanced budget amendment between 1996 and 2011. The issue did not come up in two debates viewed from his 2008 Senate campaign or in any of news stories we accessed from that election. There’s no evidence Warner promised voters he’d support the amendment during the 2008 campaign that put him in the Senate and recanted after he took office.

Our ruling

The purpose of our Flip-O-Meter is to gauge how much a politician’s position on an issue has changed. We don’t take a position on whether the change is good or bad.

There’s no doubt Warner has reversed course on a balanced budget amendment over the years. So we rate it a Full Flop.

Our Sources

Ed Gillespie for Senate, "Mark Warner fights Mark Warner on balanced budget,"  May 20, 2014.

Ed Gillespie for Senate video ad on Mark Warner’s position on a balanced budget, May 20, 2014.

Interview with David Turner, spokesman for Mark Warner for Senate, June 11, 2014.

Email from David Turner, June 12, 2014.

C-SPAN, Virginia Senatorial Debate, (Mark Warner’s balanced budget comments are just over 14 minutes into the video.)

CNN Transcripts, "State of the Union with Candy Crowley," April 3, 2011.

Blue Virginia, "Mark Warner on whether we’ll have a budget, shutdown, default on debt," April 3, 2011.

Project Vote Smart, "Mark Warner’s voting record," accessed June 12, 2014.

U.S. Senate, Vote number 30, March 2, 2011.

The Associated Press, "Senate rejects two balanced budget amendments," Dec. 14, 2011.

Congressional Research Service, "A balanced budget constitutional amendment: Background and congressional options," Dec. 20, 2011.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, "Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star: U.S. Sen. Mark Warner urges University of Mary Washington students to get involved in politics," April 4, 2012.

C-SPAN, "Virginia Senate Debate," Sept. 18, 2008.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Va. House delegation splits on debt ceiling deal," Aug. 2, 2011.

The Hill, "Bipartisan support builds for Gang of Six $3.7 trillion deficit reduction package," July 19, 2011.

The Washington Post, "New debt plan gains support in Senate, House passes balanced budget amendment," July 19, 2011.

Kaiser Health News, "Gang of Six plan to cut deficit by $3.7 trillion," July 19, 2011.

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Warner has changed stance on balanced budget amendment

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