As debt talks ramp up, spending cuts not enough for some Republican senators

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Conservative senators feel that the only thing worse than raising the debt limit is raising the debt limit without significant changes to the way Congress does business.

Even after the White House floated cuts to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for tax increases, Republican senators introduced a bill that puts the Cut, Cap, Balance pledge into legislative language. The group of senators want to push for a vote on the bill before the August 2 deadline on the debt ceiling.

Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Roy Blunt of Missouri, David Vitter of Louisiana, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, all introduced the Cut, Cap, Balance Act of 2011 at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

“To me, this is akin to having a cousin who has a huge credit card problem and he says, ‘Don’t worry, I have a solution. I need you to come down to the bank with me to get a higher limit or to get an 8th credit card,’” said Vitter, referring to the budget dilemma. “Well, that’s not the solution. The solution is doing something meaningful about the underlying spending and borrowing problem.”

“None of us wants to raise the debt ceiling,” Paul said. “None of us thinks it’s a good idea to spend money we don’t have … but we also think there would be some circumstances under which we would borrow more money.”

“We have to have a binding plan saying we will do things differently,” Paul added. (Social Security becomes a pawn in debt talks)

The bill, which currently has 21 co-sponsors, seeks to cut spending by $142 billion, cap spending in six different categories (non-defense discretionary, defense, social security, mandatory veterans, Medicare, “other” mandatory spending), and require the passage of the balanced budget amendment before the debt ceiling can be raised.

The move came the same day leaders from both parties met with the president at the White House to negotiate a deal on the debt limit increase. At a brief press conference after the meeting, Obama said that talks were “frank” and “very constructive,” but that both parties remain divided on a “wide variety of issues.”

Obama also told lawmakers Thursday that he will not sign a deal that does not extend the debt limit beyond the 2012 elections, and he gave Republican and Democrat lawmakers three options for a deal.

According to Roll Call, the three different packages range from deals that would be worth $2 trillion in savings, $3 trillion — the original number pushed by Vice President Biden — or $4 trillion. Obama has made it clear he favors the more ambitious package of cutting $4 trillion, which puts cuts to Medicare and Social Security on the table.

It’s that spirit of compromise, however, that has conservative lawmakers pushing to tie the debt limit vote to the Cut, Cap, Balance Act, and more specifically, a balanced budget amendment.

That’s the only way, say some lawmakers, to bind future Congresses to cut spending and balance the budget. (GOP senators move to prevent executive order on debt limit)

But while some may view the push for a constitutional amendment as nothing more than a stubborn, political move, the feeling among conservative senators, at least, is that after the disastrous Continuing Resolution deal in the spring, they have good reason not to back down.

“We didn’t know details of the deal and it was pushed and pushed and pushed, then they came out with an 11th hour deal,” one GOP source on the Hill told The Daily Caller.

This time, a budget deal needs to include spending cuts and caps that won’t be ignored after five years, said the source. “There’s got to be something else.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will put a balanced budget amendment on the legislative calendar, though he has not signed on as a co-sponsor to the Cut, Cap, Balance Act.

McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have been tight-lipped about the status of negotiations. Boehner spoke to the Steering Committee after the meeting at the White House, but one senator who was in attendance declined to comment on what was said.

Blunt said that the speaker was “optimistic” in a meeting he had with Boehner and added that with another meeting scheduled for this Sunday, a deal could be announced sooner rather than later.

“There is substantial belief that whatever is going to happen is likely to happen in the next few days,” said Blunt. “They are working hard to make something happen, but nothing’s happened yet. There’s no deal yet; nobody knows what the deal is.”

“I think if they do get there they’ll get there pretty quickly or they won’t get there,” Blunt added.