- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2011

Regardless of the outcome of the race to raise the nation’s borrowing limit by Tuesday’s White House deadline, the GOP has vowed to continue its push for a constitutional balanced-budget amendment beyond the current debt-limit impasse.

House Speaker John A. Boehner’s willingness to tie a balanced-budget amendment provision on proposals aimed at raising the nation’s debt ceiling — even though the move largely assures their demise in the Democrat-controlled Senate — reflects just how important the issue is to Republicans.

“We have moved the debate over a balanced-budget amendment forward in a positive, substantive manner,” said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. “It would be an historic opportunity to truly and fundamentally reform how Washington operates.”

Republicans say the government has bumped up against its self-imposed debt limit because it has neglected to rein in out-of-control spending. And there is no better way to force spending controls and ensure this doesn’t happen again, they say, than by adding a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

To that end, the GOP insisted the debt-limit framework they reached with the president Sunday night requires both chambers of Congress to hold a vote on a balanced-budget amendment later this year.

The tentative agreement offers an incentive for the amendment to succeed: future debt increases would be contingent on either the amendment being sent to the states, or for a separate debt commission coming up with $1.5 trillion in savings.

Any amendment to the Constitution must pass by a two-thirds margin in both the House and Senate, and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Sunday’s framework is a middle ground between earlier Republican efforts.

The GOP’s “cut, cap and balance” debt and deficit-reduction proposal, which passed the House in mid-July but failed in the Senate, said the debt limit could only be raised if balanced-budget-amendment proposals passed both chambers of Congress and were sent to the states for ratification.

A proposal by Mr. Boehner to raise the nation’s debt limit was on the verge of collapse late Thursday when some conservatives in the Ohio Republican’s ranks balked because his plan included only a promise to hold nonbinding votes on the amendment.

After rewriting the bill to make a future debt increase contingent on passing a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, Republican leaders won enough support and the measure passed the House on Friday. It failed later in the day in the Senate.

There are two main GOP balanced-budget amendment versions circulating in the House. One, a so-called “clean” provision that is similar to one that came close to passing Congress in the 1990s, would require Congress to balance the federal budget each year and require a three-fifths vote in each chamber to raise the debt limit.

Another version — one strongly opposed by Democrats — also would cap spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product and require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to increase taxes.

Democratic leaders have accused House Republicans of holding the debt-limit debate “hostage” by their insistence of including a balanced-budget amendment to any deal. Many Democrats also oppose such a constitutional change in principle, saying it would make it easy for future Republican-controlled Congresses to cut welfare and entitlement programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“What we see unfolding in the former Republican Party is the capitulation to special interests — the special, narrow interests of one [conservative] segment of a party that is controlling the very future of all Americans,” said Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said it was “bizarre” for House Republicans to try to link a balanced-budget amendment with raising the debt ceiling.

“This is the most outrageous suggestion I have heard,” added Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Many Republicans said they won’t back down on their demand that increasing the debt limit is contingent on a balanced-budget amendment passing Congress.

“The American people know the only balanced approach [to lowering the debt] is a balanced budget,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference. “If we want jobs and hope and opportunity, we are going to have to cut, we’re going to have to cap and — ultimately — we will have to balance the budget.”

Stephen Dinan and Paige Winfield Cunningham contributed to this report.

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