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Tea Party Senators Leveraging Debt Ceiling for a Balanced Budget Amendment

April 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The upcoming debt ceiling increase is pretty much the ultimate must-pass bill. If Congress doesn’t pass it, it’s not just that some programs would be put on hold or that some federal workers would be furloughed; the entire economy would collapse much more deeply than in 2008, and we would have no chance of recovery since our international credit worthiness, our principle financial asset, would be permanently ruined. Of course, every member of Congress knows that the debt ceiling increase has to be passed. That’s why they’re hoping to use it as a means to pass other legislation that they know cannot stand on its own.

Fox News reports that Senate Republicans are planning to filibuster the debt ceiling increase unless the Senate passes a constitutional balanced budget amendment:

Guided by their belief that the nation is headed for a long-term fiscal calamity, Republicans are promising a fight — one that may make the battle earlier this spring over government funding resolutions look small in comparison.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., vows to “tie the Senate in knots” unless it passes a balanced budget amendment. And while he and Senate Republicans may lack the votes for passage, they wield some leverage — Democrats need some Republican support to raise the debt ceiling.

[…]

All 47 Senate Republicans have signed a pledge to vote for it, and there are indications that as many as nine or 10 Senate Democrats may be leaning towards yes votes, too.

The last time a balanced budget amendment was introduced in the Senate, in 1997, it failed by just one vote.

Proponents believe the public pressure for such an amendment has grown enormously since those years.

The Republicans’ balanced budget amendment is S.J.Res.10.

Besides requiring budgets to spend no more than they bring in in revenues, it would cap federal spending at 18% of GDP, which you can see in the graph at right is a level not seen since the early 1930s. It would also make it more difficult to balance the budget by raising taxes or closing tax loopholes by requiring a 2/3rds majority vote in both chambers for “any bill that imposes a new tax or increases the statutory rate of any tax.”

As difficult as it is to pass a constitutional amendment (both chambers must pass it with 2/3rds majority), the Republicans have the advantage here. It only takes two or three senators working together to filibuster a bill to death. The balanced budget amendment has the support of 47 Republicans, so DeMint can likely get help from othe Tea Party members, like Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY] and Sen. Mike Lee [R, UT], or Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT], the amendment’s chief sponsor. And note that DeMint doesn’t just want a vote on the amendment; he is threatening a filibuster unless the amendment actually passes.

QUICK UPDATE: Sen. Lee has already pledged to filibuster the debt ceiling vote unless a balanced budget amendment passes. Game on.

Sens. DeMint and Paul are pictured above, pledging their allegiace to the flag, at a Tea Party Caucus meeting.

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