- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2011

President Obama is campaigning across the country for another round of stimulus spending fueled by a massive tax increase. In response, congressional Republicans have taken a defensive posture, repeatedly saying no to a reckless administration plan that even Democrats are afraid to pass.

It’s time for the party of fiscal restraint to retake the offensive with the one weapon in Washington that already enjoys broad public support: a balanced-budget amendment (BBA).

Under the deal struck in August by congressional leaders and Mr. Obama to raise the debt ceiling, the House and Senate will have a BBA vote before Dec. 31.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich doesn’t think the House GOP leadership is doing what it takes to make the amendment a reality. Mr. Gingrich’s judgment is based on experience. The former speaker oversaw House passage of a balanced-budget amendment in 1995 only to lose later by a single Senate vote.

Asked by The Washington Times in an interview last week whether he thought Republican leaders were working to get the two-thirds needed for passage, Mr. Gingrich replied, “No, they are not.”

He recommended using the vote this year to target Democrats who vote against the plan and look to the next Congress for passage.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor disagreed with Mr. Gingrich’s dire assessment. “We absolutely are very committed to making sure that we take advantage of the requirement in the debt-ceiling agreement that we see an up-or-down vote in the Senate,” the Virginia Republican said Tuesday. “The majority whip is heading up a lot of working groups and activity focused toward building support both within this building and outside toward a balanced-budget amendment.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the majority whip, has held a series of meetings with Republican members who are leading the legislative push, including Virginia’s Bob Goodlatte, Indiana’s Mike Pence and Oklahoma’s James Lankford. The California Republican is trying to determine the best BBA version to bring to the floor and the timing. The Judiciary Committee passed Mr. Goodlatte’s bill in June; it has no plans to mark up any other versions this year.

The Republican Study Committee has been the driving force behind the budget-balancing effort. After its “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan failed to pass the Senate, the group pushed GOP leaders to demand a mandatory vote on the BBA in the final debt-ceiling deal with the president.

The conservative caucus hosted a policy and strategy forum Thursday to support the upcoming vote. Led by Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama Republican, 20 members of Congress and outside organizations met to discuss how to build consensus. The sponsors of the six legislative versions of the BBA joined to work out differences and settle on the plan with the best chance of passage.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Washington spending went up $144 billion this fiscal year despite Republican control of the House of Representatives. Republicans need to do something to earn credibility on fiscal issues, and a constitutional restraint on the tax-and-spend ways of Capitol Hill is something an overwhelming majority of Americans would get behind.

It’s not going to happen, however, unless Republican leaders start putting the pressure on moderate Democrats. A vote against permanent fiscal restraint could become the ultimate electoral tool. The GOP leadership needs to take this fight to the people.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.