By Alexander Bolton - 03/30/11 10:08 AM EDT
Senate conservatives plan to filibuster legislation to increase the nation’s debt ceiling above $14.3 trillion, a move that will make it harder for President Obama to garner the votes he needs.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has told supporters in Utah that he will filibuster the legislation to authorize Treasury Department officials to add to the nation’s multitrillion-dollar debt.
Lee said he might be persuaded to back off if Obama and Democratic leaders agreed to a major concession, which GOP strategists consider highly unlikely.
“The concession would [have to] be something very significant, very permanent and very binding, like a balanced-budget amendment — and passage of it, not just a vote,” Lee said.
Lee added he would vote against an increase of the debt limit no matter what scenario unfolded.
This means Democrats will have to split the Senate GOP conference to win the support they need to increase the debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has made one of his highest priorities.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would have to keep his conference together and pick off seven Republicans.
Failure to increase the debt limit could force the federal government to default on its bonds for the first time in history.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), another founding member of the Tea Party Caucus, said Tuesday he would support a filibuster of the debt-limit increase.
“I’m not going to give any consent to move ahead with a debt-ceiling increase,” he said. “The only way I’m going to work with them is if we pass a balanced-budget amendment before we have that vote.”
DeMint predicted that Senate GOP leaders would force a vote on a balanced-budget amendment before allowing legislation to increase the debt limit to reach the floor.
The amendment would need the support of 20 Democrats — or 18 Democrats and two Independents — to reach the 67-vote threshold required to approve constitutional amendments.
That prospect seems highly unlikely, since the leading balanced-budget amendment proposal expected to emerge would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers to raise taxes in the future.
The proposal under discussion would cap spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, which Congress could only waive with two-thirds votes in both chambers, unless the nation has declared war. Lawmakers are thinking about extending the war waiver to cover significant military conflicts.
“I for one am not going to support increasing the debt ceiling and will probably work with Mike [Lee] in any way I can if we don’t pass a balanced-budget [amendment] first,” DeMint said.
The Senate fell one vote short of passing a balanced-budget amendment in March of 1997 after 11 Democrats voted for it. Four still hold seats in the chamber: Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Herb Kohl (Wis.) and Mary Landrieu (La.).
Austan Goolsbee, one of Obama’s senior economic advisers, warned earlier this year that if there is a default, “the impact on the economy would be catastrophic.”
Several GOP senators, however, argue that failure to increase the debt limit would not necessarily cause the government to default.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has introduced legislation that would require the Treasury to prioritize spending to service the existing debt if Congress does not grant more borrowing authority.
The federal government is projected to hit its debt limit between April 5 and May 31.
The Washington Post reported on its 2chambers blog Monday that Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a Tea Party Caucus member, became the first official “no” vote on raising the debt ceiling after he sent a March 22 letter to Obama outlining his position.
To date, you have provided little or no leadership on what I believe is the most important issue facing our nation — our national debt,” Moran wrote. “With no indication that your willingness to lead will change, I want to inform you I will vote ‘no’ on your request to raise the debt ceiling.”