Conservatives press Boehner on debt ceiling strategy

Jonathan Strong | Contributor

House conservatives are urging Republican House Speaker John Boehner to include institutional spending reforms, including a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, as part of the GOP’s demand to Democrats for raising the debt ceiling.

In a symbolic flourish underscoring the push, the Republican Study Committee is hand delivering its “cut, cap and balance” plan in a letter to Boehner later today or potentially Monday.

The letter says in order to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans should demand immediate spending cuts large enough to halve the deficit next year, a law that automatically reduces spending if it exceeds 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution introduced by freshman Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois be sent to the states for ratification.

The effort by the conservatives, who are led by RSC Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, comes as Majority Leader Eric Cantor is negotiating with Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Daniel Inouye over sizable spending cuts, but not, according to Cantor’s public comments, any of the institutional reforms the conservatives are proposing.

“We’re not going to increase the nation’s credit limit for trillions of dollars . . .without commensurate . . . more than trillions of dollars in cuts,” Cantor said early Friday. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel did broadly back the idea of institutional reforms Friday, saying increasing the debt ceiling will require “serious spending cuts and reforms in the way we spend taxpayers’ money.”

Privately, the conservatives are suspicious of Boehner.

“Leadership from the beginning has been trying to kill the balanced budget amendment,” a GOP aide told The Daily Caller, adding that the stakes are high because the debt ceiling vote is “the most leverage we’re gonna have this Congress.”

Boehner cosponsored a balanced budget amendment introduced by GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia in the last Congress. But privately, he views it as a “gimmick,” said Andy Roth, the Vice President for Government Affairs at the Club for Growth, which is backing the version of the amendment introduced by Walsh.

In the Senate, GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Rand Paul of Kentucky successfully brought every Republican Senator on board – including liberal Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine — with an amendment identical to Walsh’s.

The version of Goodlatte’s bill introduced this Congress is being marked up in the House Judiciary Committee. Several amendments have been proposed to bring its language in line with Walsh’s amendment.

Polls show the idea is widely popular with the public, but one objection commonly given to a balanced budget amendment is that it is impractical in the event of a war or other emergency.

The Club for Growth’s Roth points out that every proposed amendment allows Congress to incur a deficit in the event of a war with a supermajority vote, giving flexibility.

Walsh’s amendment allows a deficit to be incurred to pay for a war that Congress has declared.

Another objection is that getting the required 38 states to ratify the amendment would be difficult and time consuming.

Roth estimates that 33 to 34 states are eminently achievable for ratification and that if those states ratified, “the momentum would be so strong it would push us over.”

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