None of the Republican presidential contenders has emphasized fiscal responsibility enough to get the job done — even if they win, Rep. Steve King (R) charged Thursday.
The outspoken Iowa conservative said reining in the nation's enormous deficits — a stated goal of all the Republican hopefuls — will require more than lip service from the GOP candidates. Rather, he said, the next president has to "beat the drum" for a balanced-budget amendment loudly enough that voters give him a mandate to enact it.
That's something the Republicans in the race haven't done, King added.
The four remaining GOP presidential candidates — Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — have all called for the adoption of a balanced-budget amendment. But King said they haven't prioritized it enough to accomplish the task.
"The will to balance the budget does not exist in the United States Congress today [and] a new president doesn't necessarily solve that either," said King, who has not endorsed a candidate in this year's presidential race.
"If we have a president who does not take the lead, I don't think the Republicans [in Congress] will be strong enough to push it. It's going to take a president who says, 'Give me the mandate for the balanced-budget amendment.' "
Asked if the GOP presidential field has such a candidate, King said, "No, I don't think it's emerged yet."
"I don't think any of the candidates have made it a big enough issue that the public sees it as something that can become a mandate," he said. "They've got to beat the drum. That's really my challenge to the presidential candidates: Beat the drum for the mandate for the balanced-budget amendment."
With control of the House, Republicans have pushed several measures this Congress to make fiscal responsibility a constitutional obligation. One measure, which would have linked a debt-ceiling hike to the future adoption of a balanced-budget amendment, passed the lower chamber in July but went nowhere in the Senate. Another effort in November fell 23 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Democrats are almost universally opposed to a balanced-budget amendment, arguing that it would cripple the ability of Congress to respond to recessions and other emergencies. King suggested that opposition — combined with the two-thirds majority threshold for amending the Constitution — makes the president's role in rallying public support crucial to passing a the measure.
"We need a president who has a mandate to push a balanced-budget amendment from this Congress to the states," King said. "That's the only thing that I can see that can fix this problem."