Republicans see balanced budget amendment as potent campaign weapon

Senate Republicans are planning a new push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution when lawmakers return to Washington after the August recess.

GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamHigh anxiety for GOP NYC mayor: Trump sounds like ‘a third-world dictator’ Five takeaways from final debate MORE (S.C.), John McCainJohn McCainIs Georgia turning blue? High anxiety for GOP Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support MORE (Ariz.) and Tom CoburnTom CoburnRyan calls out GOP in anti-poverty fight The Trail 2016: Words matter Ex-Sen. Coburn: I won’t challenge Trump, I’ll vote for him MORE (Okla.) will lead the charge in the fall, when Democrats plan to debate raising taxes on families that earn more than $250,000 a year.

It’s the latest campaign in a crusade that conservatives have waged for two decades.

They believe the proposal, which came within one vote of passing Congress in 1995, will gain new political traction in the weeks before the election, when federal deficits are a chief concern of many voters.

“We’ll bring that back between now and the election,” DeMint, chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee, told The Hill.

In February, the lawmakers introduced a resolution to establish a balanced budget amendment; DeMint reintroduced it last week so that he could bring it straight to the floor after the recess.

“In the last week there’s been a lot of movement in terms of Republican senators saying we need to press this issue,” said a Senate GOP aide.

The amendment would bar the federal government from spending more than it collects in revenues each year. It would also require a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber to raise taxes.

A balanced budget amendment has polled well in several Senate battlegrounds, according to a Republican strategist familiar with internal polling.

The Congressional Budget Office reported Thursday that the federal deficit reached $1.2 trillion after the first 10 months of the fiscal year.

Republicans captured Congress in the 1994 midterm election by campaigning on the need for a balanced budget amendment when the federal deficit was only $203 billion.

A slew of Republican candidates in strong positions to join the Senate next year have endorsed amending the Constitution.

They are Rand PaulRand PaulWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? MORE in Kentucky, Marco RubioMarco RubioNew York Times endorses Rubio's rival Rubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Poll: Clinton holds 4-point lead in Florida MORE in Florida, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Ken Buck in Colorado, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Mike LeeMike LeeDonald Trump's Mormon PR problem Trump's big worry isn't rigged elections, it's GOP establishment GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE in Utah, Dino Rossi in Washington and Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonGOP plan: Link Dems to an email scandal GOP senator: Dems making ‘concerted effort to produce fraudulent votes’ Club for Growth: Anti-Trump spending proved to be 'good call' MORE in Wisconsin.

A GOP strategist familiar with internal polling in some of these races says that surveys show strong public support for a balanced budget amendment, exceeding 65 percent in at least one race.

Republican aides acknowledge they have virtually no chance of passing an amendment this year, when Democrats control 59 Senate seats and a large majority in the House.

But they say a debate this fall could set the groundwork for next year, when Congress is expected to debate the recommendations of the fiscal responsibility commission appointed by President Obama.

A resolution to amend the Constitution requires two-thirds support of the Senate and the House. It would also require ratification by 38 states.

“No one is saying that a balanced budget would immediately pass, but the tide has turned as the majority of people in America realize that deficits are a big problem,” said a Senate GOP aide.

Several Democratic senators have supported such a proposal in the past.

Democratic Sens. Max BaucusMax BaucusChina moves to lift ban on US beef Overnight Healthcare: Zika fight stalls government funding talks | Census finds big drop in uninsured | Mental health bill faces wait Glover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft MORE (Mont.), Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (Iowa) and Herb Kohl (Wis.) voted for a balanced budget amendment when it came to the floor in March of 1995. Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHuckabee to Biden: Trump can land a 'face kick' The Trail 2016: Election night cliffhanger Armani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner MORE, who then represented Delaware, also voted for it.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), a Democrat who voted against the amendment, will retire after this year, and other opponents such as Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Patty MurrayPatty MurrayWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress Senate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military A fight for new rights MORE (D-Wash.) face tough reelections.

The idea has bipartisan support in the House.

A group of centrist Blue Dog Democrats introduced legislation earlier this year to add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

A resolution sponsored by Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) has 42 Democratic co-sponsors.

GOP candidates who could join the Republican Conference next year, such as Paul of Kentucky and Lee of Utah, have said they would press for a debate on the amendment early in the 112th Congress.

A popular element of the amendment is the requirement of a supermajority to raise taxes.

“The point of that is so that raising taxes won’t be the default way to balance the budget,” said DeMint. “The whole idea is to cut spending.”

A senior Senate Republican aide who works on tax policy said that creating a supermajority threshold could be part of a grand legislative compromise that emerges from the recommendations of the fiscal responsibility commission.

He said Republicans might be more willing to accept tax increases to reduce the deficit if they were assured that it would be much more difficult to raise taxes in the future.

“It could be part of a grand bargain,” said the aide.

But DeMint is skeptical of that prospect.

“I support a supermajority to raise taxes,” he said. “But to use it as leverage to agree to other tax increases, I’m not sure.”

DeMint said he wanted to first see the recommendations of Obama’s commission, which is due to report by Dec. 1.

“Hopefully it’s robust spending cuts, because that’s what Americans are expecting,” he said.