Republican leaders pressed to win balanced-budget amendment

Conservatives in the House Republican Conference are urging their leadership to press anew for a balanced-budget amendment as part of a debt deal, despite staunch opposition from Democratic leaders and the White House.

“I would say to the president right now, we need to put back on the table some of the items that he took off early on,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), vice chairwoman of the GOP conference, told reporters after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans.

“He took off the balanced-budget amendment early on," McMorris Rodgers said. “He took off changes to ObamaCare and repeal of ObamaCare. We believe that those are part of the solution and we want to put them back on the table.”

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During the meeting, several members spoke up and pressed for the inclusion of the balanced-budget amendment, leading Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to mention the proposal in his public remarks for the second day in a row.

“We have to have real controls in place to make sure this never happens again — real controls like a balanced-budget amendment,” Boehner told reporters.

The Speaker had previously been cool to the idea because it requires passage by state legislatures and would take years to enact, unlike spending controls that could be authorized simply by a majority vote in Congress.

In a nod to conservatives, the House will vote on a balanced-budget amendment next week, though it might not earn the two-thirds support needed to pass.

The push came as Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sought to reassure their conference that they were united in the debt talks, amid increased scrutiny on Cantor’s opposition to Boehner’s push for a “grand bargain.”

“The focus was on filling in the membership, showing that Cantor and Boehner are on the same page,” Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said.

Democrats have been trying to exploit the division, with Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the party’s campaign chief in the House, labeling the Boehner-Cantor dynamic an “internal war” in the GOP conference.

Boehner on Tuesday praised Cantor, saying he had done “a good job” representing Republicans in the talks led by Vice President Biden.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) downplayed the split, saying it was not a big focus of the meeting.

“I don’t think there was anyone in our caucus alleging there was a problem there,” he said.

According to several lawmakers, Boehner was “emphatic” in saying that he had never entertained the idea of raising taxes as part of a deal to raise the debt limit.

“Today (Boehner) spoke and said 'For 30 years, I’ve been in public service, (and) I’ve never voted to increase taxes on the American people — and this is no different,'”  Rep. Steve Southerland II (R-Fla.) told The Hill following the meeting. "I will not support anything that raises taxes." 

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said multiple people in the caucus pushed for leadership to tie the talks to a balanced-budget amendment.

“This was not just some small fraction of the caucus,” he said. “As one member put it, this is like a comet that will only come again rarely.”

Womack added, however, that leadership did not appear confident about getting the amendment. The White House is opposed to the idea.

Womack said he and his group of lawmakers believe that going for a smaller deal is the wrong move given the size of the problem. This group wants a large deal, albeit without revenue increases.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said he thought a balanced-budget amendment would pass the House because not that many Democratic votes were required. If all 240 Republicans vote for the amendment, about 48 Democrats would have to support it to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. 

Kingston suggested the GOP could make changes to its existing balanced-budget legislation to try to win over centrist Democrats. 

After the meeting, GOP leaders reiterated their opposition to tax increases and pushed President Obama to outline his own plan.

“Where’s the president’s plan? When’s he going to lay his cards on the table?” Boehner said. “This debt-limit increase is his problem, and I think it’s time for him to lead by putting his plan on the table.”


—This story was posted at 11:33 a.m. and last updated at 1:05 p.m.

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