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 LeeHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Senators introduce bipartisan bill restricting police use of facial recognition tech Fed chief urges Congress to expand US workforce while economy still strong 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.

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"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 PaulJohnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens Senate GOP waves Trump off early motion to dismiss impeachment charges McConnell discounts quick dismissal of Trump impeachment articles: 'We'll have to have a trial' MORE (R-Ky.), as well as more senior members, like Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWhat are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? Sessions vows to 'work for' Trump endorsement Sanford: 'It carries real weight' to speak against Trump 'while in office' 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 BluntOvernight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Alcohol industry races to save tax break by year-end deadline 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.

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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.