Senate GOP leaders put balanced-budget amendment on hold

A sweeping proposal to add a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution has been delayed in the Senate after GOP leaders decided it should have unanimous Republican support before it moves forward. 

The decision had some conservative lawmakers grumbling and asking questions about whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is seriously willing to consider the proposal, or is looking to quash it.

The call for complete unity forced backers of the amendment to cancel a planned Thursday press conference to unveil their proposal. The press conference was announced on Wednesday. 

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One source noted that McConnell has yet to sign on to the amendment himself, driving concern that he might simply be seeking to table the measure.

“If McConnell was really serious about this, he would jump on the bill and co-sponsor it himself,” the source said.

Other Republicans said there was broad agreement at a Wednesday meeting between leaders and supporters of the amendment that there should be a unified GOP front before it is introduced.

McConnell’s office declined to comment, but a person who attended the meeting said there was unanimous agreement on the need for a balanced-budget amendment and equal interest in getting every Republican to sign on before pushing it forward. 

The amendment would require Congress to balance the budget every year, and would make it more difficult to increase taxes. It would also cap spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product.

Five GOP senators were prepared on Thursday to move forward with a single amendment that would have combined their earlier proposals. Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) had been working together on one amendment, while Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) had been working on another. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a backer of the Kyl-Lee amendment, was also set to sign on to the effort.

One GOP source told The Hill that McConnell called for the group to hold off because he believed a balanced-budget proposal would be more “potent” if it were sponsored by all 47 Republican senators.

Another GOP source said the Republican leadership’s priority was presenting a unified front on a balanced-budget amendment at the outset.

“I think there was a push by leadership to make sure we’re delivering this in a unified way,” the source said.

A spokesman for Hatch, who was set to sign on to the amendment, said he had no problem with the delay.

“It’s just one of those things, in the interest of trying to get as much broad support as we can, that we should postpone the news conference,” said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for the senator.

The GOP amendment would need to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate and then ratified by three-fourths of the states to become part of the Constitution.

This story was first posted at 9:33 a.m. and updated at 7:00 p.m.