GOP leaders split on timeline to push for balanced-budget amendment

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are split on whether to push for a balanced-budget amendment in a deal aimed at raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) both have endorsed the passage of a balanced-budget amendment, but Boehner is pressing for the measure in the debt-limit deal, while McConnell is not. 

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In recent weeks, Boehner has been coy on whether he was urging President Obama to embrace a balanced-budget measure.

During a June 1 press conference, Boehner declined to provide specifics when asked about the issue. At the time, Boehner told reporters that there had been “a lot of interest, in various forms, [in] a balanced-budget amendment, by my colleagues, but no decision on how we will proceed yet.”

But on Tuesday, Boehner, who has been taking heat from the right on his handling of the debt talks, spelled out his position without any ambiguity.

He told his House GOP colleagues, “I want to be clear … I support a balanced-budget amendment, and we’re going to fight for one. Any debt-limit bill we pass will have to include enforceable caps on future spending, and I can’t think of any better way to enforce those caps than a constitutional amendment requiring Washington to balance the budget.”

The remarks were obtained from a source who attended the closed-door meeting.

A dozen Republican senators and more than 100 House Republicans are demanding that a balanced-budget measure be part of any agreement to raise the debt ceiling. Tea Party groups also have rallied behind the amendment.

But McConnell has indicated that trying to attach a balanced-budget amendment to the debt limit is not a wise strategy.

The Hill recently reported that a McConnell aide told staffers who work for a handful of GOP senators that the minority leader would not demand a balanced-budget amendment as part of the bipartisan talks. 

Republican skeptics of the balanced-budget amendment say it could be a waste of a bargaining chip because it must be approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate, and then ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Pressed on the issue last month, McConnell skirted the question during an interview with Greta Van Susteren on the Fox News Channel. 

He said the Senate would vote on a balanced-budget amendment “regardless of how the debt-ceiling issue discussions play out. All 47 Republican senators are in favor of a balanced budget, a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget. With [the votes of] just 20 Democrats in the Senate, that constitutional amendment could pass.” 

McConnell told Van Susteren that the Senate would vote on a separate balanced-budget amendment next week; the House is also scheduled to debate the amendment next week. The House vote has been set for July 20, while the schedule for a Senate vote is unclear.

McConnell’s office did not comment for this article.

According to a House GOP leadership aide, Republicans are working to get 40 to 50 House Democrats to support the constitutional amendment.

The Speaker on Tuesday told the House Republican Conference that passing a balanced-budget amendment was needed for leverage in negotiations with the White House on the debt limit, according to a Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity. 

“He said that unless we could pass the balanced-budget amendment with enough votes in the House, then we didn’t have the leverage … the point is, you use your leverage in negotiations to get Democrats to agree to pass it in the House and Senate,” the legislator said. 

Backers of the balanced-budget amendment contend that if enough pressure is put on the White House, Obama could deliver the necessary number of congressional Democrats to put it over the top.