Conservative senators lay out debt plan

A group of conservative Senate Republicans are seeking to make their mark on the debt limit debate, unveiling legislation that includes a $2.4 trillion hike to that ceiling, but with several major conditions.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeA cash advance to consider McConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing MORE (R-Utah) and 21 GOP senators unveiled legislation Thursday that would require Congress to implement several spending caps across government spending, including entitlements, as well as pass a balanced budget amendment before the debt limit could be increased.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It's a move we believe is absolutely necessary," said Lee.

He is joined on the bill by fellow freshmen like Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.), as well as more senior members, like Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsA better way to run the Federal Bureau of Prisons Trump admin erases key environmental enforcement tool DOJ should take action against China's Twitter propaganda MORE (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. However, it has yet to attract any backing from Senate Republican leaders.

The bill effectively codifies the "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge that had been signed by a handful of Republicans, including Lee. The one-page pledge calls for lawmakers to oppose any debt limit increase unless "substantial cuts in spending," spending caps, and a balanced budget amendment are approved by Congress first.

However, the legislation also attracted Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad MORE (R-Mo.) as a co-sponsor, even though he did not sign the pledge.

Blunt said Thursday that he was not interested in signing a pledge that laid out what he would not do, but the measure was a different matter.

"This is a bill that says what I would do," he said, before adding that he would not sign off on a debt limit increase without a "significant structural change" to government spending.

Such a measure is unlikely to gain traction in a Senate still controlled by Democrats, but Lee maintained he would like to see a vote on the measure before Aug. 2, which is the deadline the Treasury Department has set for hiking the limit.

ADVERTISEMENT
But even if the measure does not become a reality, Lee made clear that he did not buy the fledgling argument that the president has the power under the Constitution to avoid the debt ceiling altogether. Such a notion has been gaining some steam among Democrats -- while being shot down by others -- and Lee was adamant it was not so.

Rather, the clause of the Constitution that supposedly gives Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner the power to issue debt regardless of the debt limit actually does something quite different based on Lee's reading: it forces him to prioritize funds to make debt service payments above other obligations if the debt limit is reached.

"The Treasury Secretary has to make sure those get paid first," he said.

For their part, the White House -- including President Obama -- have declined to even consider such a move in public, reiterating the emphasis on striking a deal with Congress before the deadline. But a Reuters report indicated that the Treasury has looked into the issue.

But that has not stopped Republicans from trying to head the issue off at the pass -- including introducing a resolution in the Senate that affirms that Congress must approve a debt limit increase and the President must sign it before issuing new debt.