Some House Republicans are expressing renewed confidence that the push for a balanced-budget constitutional amendment will gain real steam in the 112th Congress — aided by the newly elected crop of budget-slashing GOP freshmen.
"We're very optimistic that we'll be able to get a vote on this at some point," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who has introduced two separate balanced-budget amendment measures.
"Right now I'm just in the process of signing up as many co-sponsors as I can," said Goodlatte, who noted that he hasn't yet spoken to the Republican leadership about moving the measure to the floor. "There's such great support for this both outside and within the Congress, that I anticipate we can move it."
Goodlatte has already signed on 137 co-sponsors, including one House Democrat — Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah) — and he said both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have supported his push for a balanced-budget amendment in the past.
Ready to aid Goodlatte's effort is the new class of Republican freshmen, many of whom have Tea Party activists looking over their shoulder ahead of 2012 as they cast their first votes and set priorities for the new Congress.
"You have a host of new Republican freshmen who were sent here with a mandate for a balanced budget," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), one of the co-sponsors of Goodlatte's bill. "When I was sent here, it was with a mandate for a balanced budget. So I think it's time we act on that."
Chaffetz, who has made noise about a potential primary challenge to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in 2012, said he expects the new class of Republican lawmakers to be instrumental in helping push the measure forward.
One way it could get done, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on Fox News Sunday, is tying a balanced-budget rule to any agreement by Republicans to raise the debt ceiling.
"I can't imagine voting to raise the debt ceiling unless we're going to change our ways in Washington," Paul said. "I am proposing that we link to raising the debt ceiling — that we link a balanced budget rule, an ironclad rule that they can't evade."
Not a bad idea, suggested Chaffetz, who said, "I think we need to be moving in that direction."
The Utah Republican said that while most people understand that raising the debt ceiling is a must at some point, "if it's not tied to dramatic reductions in spending and the eventuality of balancing the budget, we probably shouldn't do it."
"I have a very similar feeling," said Rep. Paul Gosar (Ariz.), the Tea Party-backed Republican who defeated Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick in November. "I need to see some real benchmarks."
Gosar noted he heard plenty of talk on the campaign trail from voters eager for a balanced-budget amendment.
"It's a very popular idea simply because people don't trust politicians to do the things they say they're going to do," said Mark Meckler, head of the group Tea Party Patriots. "So they're looking for something to tie their hands."
Meckler said a push forward on a balanced-budget amendment would thrill most Tea Party activists.
Another freshman on board with the idea is Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), who defeated Democrat Glenn Nye in November. While talk of the economy and the deficit were omnipresent on the campaign trail, Rigell said there wasn't a single town-hall meeting in which voters didn't specifically call for a balanced-budget amendment.
"To say that the fiscal path we're on right now is unsustainable understates the gravity of what we're facing," said Rigell. "As we move forward, I think there will increasingly be a linkage between Republican willingness to sign on to a debt increase and substantive efforts to reduce the deficit. Ideally, this very bill."
Goodlatte said while it's "too early to be telegraphing our demands," the tying of a balanced-budget amendment to the debt-ceiling measure "could certainly go a long way in assuring members that Congress is truly serious about addressing the deficit."